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Why the Queen herself has twice delivered Canada's speech from the throne – CBC.ca

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Hello, royal watchers. This is your regular dose of royal news and analysis — curated this week by Eva Lam. Reading this online? Sign up here to get this delivered to your inbox.


Our CBC colleague and senior reporter Mark Gollom took a look this week at the two occasions in which Queen Elizabeth opened Parliament in Canada:

This week saw Gov. Gen. Julie Payette carry out one of her more significant parliamentary duties as the Queen’s representative — opening up the new session of Canada’s Parliament by delivering the speech from the throne.

It’s referred to as such because, quite simply, the speech to outline the federal government’s priorities for that session of Parliament is read from the throne, or seat, that is reserved in the Senate chamber for the Queen or her royal representative.

But there have been two occasions in which the Queen herself has sat in that seat and read the speech from the throne in Ottawa.

“Both of Queen Elizabeth II’s speeches marked key events in her reign,” said Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris.

The first was on Oct. 14, 1957, and it marked the Queen’s first visit to Canada as a reigning monarch and the first time the monarch opened Parliament in Canada.

The visit lasted four days, limited to Ottawa, and occurred during John Diefenbaker’s first year in office as prime minister.

Prince Philip listens as the Queen reads the speech from the throne opening Parliament on Oct. 14, 1957. (The Canadian Press)

“Diefenbaker’s government had only been elected in June of that year, so the visit was evidently arranged at short notice and was a coup for the minority Conservative government,” said Michael Jackson, president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada.

Diefenbaker “held a deep respect for the monarchy,” and he took “special care to ensure that this event be shared across the country,” according to the Diefenbaker Canada Centre website.

“Television cameras appeared for the first time in the House of Commons and in the Senate as the CBC broadcast the speech nationwide,” the website said.

The Queen began the speech noting that this marked “the first time the representatives of the people of Canada and their sovereign are here assembled on the occasion of the opening of Parliament.”

“This is for all of us a moment to remember,” the Queen said.

Canadian journalist and author June Callwood, writing for Maclean’s about the royal visit to Canada, wrote that the Queen read the speech “in a bath of spotlights that brought the temperature of the room to [33 C].”

Indeed, the strong lights, needed for a National Film Board documentary of the visit, blew all the fuses in the House of Commons just five minutes before the Queen’s arrival, Callwood wrote.

“For four minutes and five seconds, there was total power failure. CBC technicians wept when power was restored, with 55 seconds to go,” she wrote.

The Queen’s second throne speech read in Canada came 20 years later, on Oct. 18, 1977, as part of her Silver Jubilee tour.

This was a five-day visit, again limited to Ottawa, but as Jackson notes, the government at the time may not have been as keen about the event as the Diefenbaker government.

The Queen’s 1977 throne speech in Canada came as part of her Silver Jubilee tour. (The Canadian Press)

It came during Pierre Trudeau’s time in office, and, as Jackson wrote in his 2013 book The Crown and Canadian Federalism, some members of the prime minister’s cabinet supported eliminating the monarchy.

The government “was reluctant” to celebrate the Queen’s jubilee and “grudgingly, it arranged a short visit to Ottawa,” Jackson wrote.

Still, in the opening passages of the throne speech, the Queen remarked how she had “greatly looked forward to being with you here in the Canadian Parliament in my Silver Jubilee year.”

“Whenever I am in this wonderful country of Canada, with her vast resources and unlimited challenges, I feel thankful that Canadians have been so successful in establishing a vigorous democracy well suited to a proud and free people.”

That was the last time the Queen has opened Parliament in the country, something that Robert Finch, dominion chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada, finds regrettable.

“I think we have missed a few good opportunities over the years by not having the Queen deliver the speech from the throne more often,” he said.

“The throne speech gives us one day where we are all reminded of the Crown’s role in Parliament. To have had the Queen do it herself more often would have really helped drive home the reality that Canada is a constitutional monarchy and that she is the Queen of Canada.”

Royal brothers don’t always get along

Prince Albert (later King George VI), left, and Prince Edward (later King Edward VIII) circa 1900. Albert would find himself unexpectedly on the throne after his older brother’s abdication in 1936. (Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

When word spread recently that a statue of Diana, Princess of Wales, will be unveiled next year in a garden at Kensington Palace, some observers wondered if its installation on July 1 — which would have been her 60th birthday — will encourage some sort of rapprochement between her sons.

Much speculation has swirled about the nature of the relationship between Prince William and Prince Harry, particularly as their lives have taken them in different directions: William on the path expected of someone who is a direct heir to the throne, and Harry, farther down the line, finding a new life in California.

Whatever the exact nature of their relationship — and whether there is froideur, if not friction — it would hardly be the first time distance had developed between royal siblings who once were very close.

“When we look at history, often it’s a challenge for royal siblings to all be in the same place … and as they grow older, often, the experience of heirs to the throne tends to diverge from that of younger royal children,” said Harris.

Speculation has swirled about the nature of the relationship between Prince William and Prince Harry, pictured at the annual Commonwealth Service at London’s Westminster Abbey on March 9. (Phil Harris/Reuters)

Take, for example, King Edward VIII, who ruled from January to December 1936. Edward’s younger brother Albert found himself unexpectedly on the throne as King George VI after his older brother abdicated in order to marry the American divorcée Wallis Simpson.

“His younger brothers looked up to him when they were young, but then the abdication crisis happens and that causes a lot of strain,” said Harris.

Edward “was continuing to insist on the details of his income and whether [his wife] the Duchess of Windsor would be addressed as her royal highness … so certainly there’s a great deal of strain between the two brothers,” said Harris.

Royal historian Carolyn Harris says the abdication crisis caused a lot of strain between George VI, left, and Edward VIII. (AFP/Getty Images)

Go back a few generations, and everything was not all sunshine and light among all nine of Queen Victoria’s children.

“The future Edward the Seventh and Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, were associated with much more partying and society life whereas it was actually the younger sons … seen by Queen Victoria herself, as being more responsible,” said Harris.

Victoria leaned on her youngest son, Leopold, “as a kind of private secretary,” Harris said, noting he was a hemophiliac and couldn’t go into the military, a common occupation for royal men at the time.

“There’s some evidence of jealousy, that for the future Edward the Seventh, he was heir to the throne, he would have expected to be in that role of assisting his mother with her state duties.”

WATCH | Why biography of Harry and Meghan could add to deep royal wounds:

A new detailed book about Prince Harry and Meghan may not be as explosive as Princess Diana’s 1992 biography, but royal watchers say the information revealed will add to the deep wounds caused by the couple exiting their senior royal roles. 2:01

Harris sees some parallels among Victoria’s nine children and William and Harry in how the siblings were close when they were young, particularly because they were living in the shadow of parent’s death.

Victoria’s children “had lost their father, Prince Albert, and particularly the younger ones, growing up in this atmosphere of mourning brought them together.”

But there was a sense that over time, Queen Victoria didn’t treat them all equally.

“She had more confidence [in] some of her children’s advice or abilities than others, and so that created some strain within Queen Victoria’s extended family,” said Harris.

Kate documents Britons’ lives under lockdown

Kate Middleton launched the Hold Still photography project in May in collaboration with London’s National Portrait Gallery. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

The final selections have been unveiled for Kate Middleton’s Hold Still photography project, which aims to capture life in the U.K. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project, which the Duchess of Cambridge launched in May in collaboration with London’s National Portrait Gallery, invited people of all ages to submit a photo focused on three core themes: Helpers and Heroes, Your New Normal and Acts of Kindness. From over 31,000 submissions, a panel of five judges, including Kate, selected 100 portraits to be featured in a digital exhibition.

“The images present a unique record of our shared and individual experiences during this extraordinary period of history, conveying humour and grief, creativity and kindness, tragedy and hope,” read a message on the Kensington Royal Instagram account announcing the final 100 portraits on Sept. 14.

In the weeks after the project launched, Kate was spotted leaving encouraging messages underneath Instagram posts of people who submitted photos using the hashtags #HoldStill and #HoldStill2020, per Cosmopolitan.

On an image of a health-care worker in full uniform, Kate commented, “Thank you so much for sharing your story and for all the amazing work you continue to do at this difficult time,” signing off with a “C,” for Catherine. On another image of a young child blowing on a dandelion, Kate wrote, “A perfect example of Hold Still … the chance to re-engage and value the simple things around us.”

The final selections for the project reveal the breadth of Britons’ experiences during the pandemic. One shows a five-year-old boy with leukemia receiving chemotherapy at home during lockdown. Another shows a woman at a Black Lives Matter protest at the U.S. Embassy in London holding a sign reading, “Be on the right side of history.”

Others show physically distanced kisses and exhausted health-care workers. Each image comes with text from the entrants themselves revealing the story behind the picture.

The Queen, with whom Kate shared a number of the portraits ahead of the exhibition’s debut, has also released a congratulatory statement on the project, saying, “The Duchess of Cambridge and I were inspired to see how the photographs have captured the resilience of the British people at such a challenging time.”

Royals in Canada

Queen Elizabeth was met by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Gov. Gen. Jeanne Sauvé in Moncton, N.B., after arriving for a two-week visit to Canada on Sept. 24, 1984. (Fred Chartand/The Canadian Press)

Queen Elizabeth is scrupulous about staying out of the politics of the day, and one visit to Canada made that abundantly clear. Her 1984 trip to mark the bicentennials of Ontario and New Brunswick, along with the sesquicentennial of Toronto, was delayed by two months to avoid a federal election.

When she and Prince Philip arrived in Moncton on Sept. 24, they were greeted by a prime minister only just settling into his new job. Brian Mulroney, fresh off the Progressive Conservatives’ landslide victory, welcomed the royal couple and was with them at several points during the visit.

The Queen and Prince Philip depart Parliament Hill in Ottawa for Government House on Sept. 26, 1984, accompanied by RCMP. (Fred Sherwin/The Canadian Press)

Often asked to oversee official openings, the Queen had the chance to do that at two high-profile places: the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and Science North in Sudbury.

The 13-day visit also came shortly after the birth of her third grandson, Prince Harry. His arrival, The Canadian Press reported at the time, was recognized by the Province of Ontario with the gift of a natural willow bassinet that was presented to Buckingham Palace officials.

Royally quotable

“The borderless climate, biodiversity and health crises are all symptoms of a planet that has been pushed beyond its planetary boundaries. Without swift and immediate action at an unprecedented pace and scale, we will miss the window of opportunity to reset for a green-blue recovery and a more sustainable and inclusive future. In other words, the global pandemic is a wake-up call we simply cannot ignore.”

  • Prince Charles, in a virtual keynote speech to launch Climate Week NYC 2020 this week. A longtime advocate for the environment, the prince called for a military-style response akin to the U.S. Marshall Plan to rebuild post-war Europe.

Royal reads

  1. With Barbados declaring its intention to remove the Queen as head of state, some residents of the English Berkshire town of Reading — home to one of the largest Barbadian diasporas outside of Barbados — explain why they believe “the time is right.” [The Guardian]

  2. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle celebrated Harry’s 36th birthday on Sept. 15 by donating $130,000 to CAMFED, a charity that supports girls’ education in Africa. [Vanity Fair]

  3. Activist Gloria Steinem revealed in an Access Hollywood interview that she and Meghan Markle cold-called U.S. voters to encourage them to vote in November’s presidential election. [Harper’s Bazaar]

  4. Sophie, Countess of Wessex, had her likeness captured in a clay bust during a live-streamed sculpture session. She was promoting the U.K.’s Vision Foundation and their work for blind and partially sighted people, a cause with which she has a personal connection. [Vanity Fair]


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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Monday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

Ontario, which trails only Quebec in the number of recorded coronavirus cases and deaths in Canada, reported 851 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, down from Sunday’s tally of more than 1,000 new cases. 

Most of the new cases were reported in Toronto, York and Peel regions and Ottawa. 

The province reported 1,042 confirmed new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, a record number for a single day.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and researcher at Toronto General Hospital, said over the weekend that while the cause of the recent spike in Ontario is not entirely clear, the week ahead will offer a critical window for assessing the province’s progress in combating the pandemic.

As of Monday morning there were 295 people in Ontario hospitalized due to the virus, including 78 in ICU.

Quebec, which has recorded more than 100,000 COVID-19 cases since the global pandemic began, reported 879 new cases on Sunday.

Writing in French on Twitter, provincial Health Minister Christian Dubé said in comparing the last two weeks, the number of cases is stable but remains high. Dubé urged people to make an effort to slow transmission of the virus, noting that new cases could lead to increased hospitalizations and deaths.

The most recent figures available on Quebec’s COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 551, with 97 in intensive care.

“As hospitalizations and deaths tend to lag behind increased disease activity by one to several weeks, the concern is that we have yet to see the extent of severe impacts associated with the ongoing increase in COVID-19 disease activity,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said in a statement on Sunday. 

WATCH: Dr. Christopher Labos talks about COVID-19 in Ontario and Quebec:

The COVID-19 situation is relatively stable in Ontario and better in Quebec compared to a month ago, and it’s important to look at the trend of cases, says epidemiologist and cardiologist Dr. Christopher Labos. 2:59


What’s happening across Canada

As of 10:20 a.m. ET on Monday, Canada had 216,955 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 182,108 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting rose to 9,952.

Voters are going to the polls today in Saskatchewan, the third provincial election since the pandemic began. Elections Saskatchewan said on Twitter over the weekend that 153,749 ballots were cast in four days of advance voting. That number is almost the same as the 2016 and 2011 advanced voting combined, the election agency said.

In Manitoba, provincial health officials reported 161 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday and four new deaths. A statement from officials Sunday said there were “77 people in hospital and 15 people in intensive care.”

Alberta, which reported 432 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, did not provide updated figures over the weekend.

In British Columbia, which did not provide updated numbers over the weekend, a school is facing a temporary closure. École de l’Anse-au-sable in Kelowna will be closed until Nov. 4 after 11 people tested positive and 160 more were asked to self-isolate.

New Brunswick health officials announced Sunday that two more people in the province “have lost their lives to the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing the total of lives lost to six.” The province also announced two new cases — one in the Campbellton region and one in the Fredericton region.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, health officials announced one new case of COVID-19, an Ontario man in his 60s who had recently travelled to western Newfoundland after he was granted a travel exemption.

Prince Edward Island had no new cases on Sunday, nor did Nova Scotia.  There were no new cases in Yukon, Nunavut or the Northwest Territories on Sunday.


What’s happening around the world

Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the global spread of the novel virus, reported 43,174,685 cases worldwide, with 29,014,4079 cases listed as recovered, as of 10:50 a.m. ET on Monday. The Baltimore-based university reported 1,155,473 deaths worldwide. 

In Europe, France was reporting that virus patients now occupy more than half of the country’s intensive care units, and some doctors are urging tougher restrictions after another record jump in confirmed infections. Dr. Jean-Francois Delfraissy, head of the government’s virus advisory body, expressed surprise Monday at the “brutality” of the rise, after more than 52,000 new cases were reported Sunday.

France has been among countries hardest-hit by the pandemic, reporting 34,761 virus-related deaths. It is currently registering more than 340 positive cases per 100,000 people nationwide each week.

People walk past a restaurant on the first night of a countrywide curfew on Sunday in Madrid. Spain has declared a national state of emergency and imposed a night-time curfew from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. in an effort to help control a new spike in COVID-19 infections. (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

In Spain, which has had more than 1 million cases of the disease, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned the country was facing an “extreme” situation as he announced a new state of emergency on Sunday, imposing local nighttime curfews and banning travel between regions in some cases.

Authorities in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia are considering a mandatory stay-at-home order for weekends only, one of the strictest measures being imposed across the country to combat a sharp resurgence of the coronavirus.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia’s former coronavirus hot spot Melbourne will largely emerge from lockdown after the city on Monday recorded its first day without a new COVID-19 case in more than four months. Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said from 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday all shops, restaurants, cafes and bars will be allowed to open and outdoors contact sports can resume.

India on Monday reported fewer than 46,000 new coronavirus cases, continuing a downward trend, though rising air pollution and the Hindu festival season continue to raise fears of a fresh surge in infections. The country’s health ministry said that 45,148 new cases raised the country’s overall toll to over 7.9 million. The ministry also reported 480 new fatalities, raising the death toll to 119,014.

In the Americas, the race for the U.S. presidency continues amid the global pandemic, with U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence campaigning on Sunday despite a COVID-19 outbreak among his aides. The pandemic, which has caused about 225,000 U.S. deaths and left millions of Americans jobless, remains front and centre in the presidential race.

Trump continues to insist the U.S. is turning the corner as new coronavirus new cases surge across most of the country, with nine days to go before the election. 3:30

Residents in the Texas border city of El Paso have been urged to stay home for two weeks as a spike in coronavirus cases overwhelms hospitals.

Nurses gathered information on Oct. 23 from patients lining up in their cars for COVID-19 tests at the University of Texas El Paso. County health officials on Sunday reported 772 new cases, a day after a record 1,216 new infections were reported. (Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images)

The uptick in virus cases has also prompted the state to dedicate part of the city’s civic centre as a makeshift heath-care centre for the ill. On Sunday night, El Paso County’s top elected official issued a stay-at-home order that imposes a daily curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Violators could be fined $500 US under the order.

Mexican health authorities acknowledge the country’s true death toll from the coronavirus pandemic is far higher than previously thought, saying there were 193,170 “excess” deaths in the year up to Sept. 26. Of those, 139,153 are now judged to be attributable to COVID-19. Mexico’s official, test-confirmed death toll is only about 89,000, but officials previously acknowledged many people didn’t get tested or their tests were mishandled.

A member of the cleaning team sanitizes the stadium as part of the COVID-19 protocol before the 15th round at Kraken Stadium on Saturday in Mazatlan, Mexico. (Sergio Mejia/Getty Images)

In the Middle East, Qatar has signed an agreement with drugmaker Moderna Inc to buy its potential COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is approved and released for global use, state news agency QNA quoted a health official as saying on Sunday. 

Israel will begin human trials for a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by a research institute overseen by the country’s defence ministry on Nov. 1 after receiving regulatory approval, the ministry said on Sunday.

In Africa, South Africa’s health ministry reported 24 additional COVID-19 deaths, bringing the country’s total to 18,968. South Africa has the most recorded coronavirus cases in Africa, with Johns Hopkins putting its cumulative case number at 715,868.

Have a coronavirus question or news tip for CBC News? Email us at COVID@cbc.ca

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Canada's transport regulator hasn't settled a single COVID-19 flight cancellation complaint – CBC.ca

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The Canadian Transportation Agency has failed to settle a single complaint from Canadians demanding refunds for cancelled flights since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, CBC News has learned. 

The independent tribunal said it has been inundated with close to 10,000 complaints from mid-March, when global air travel largely ground to a halt, until Oct. 16. 

The agency confirmed it’s still processing complaints it received before March 11; it has yet to deal with any cases filed during the public health crisis.

For months, Canada’s Transport Minister has told Canadians if they are unsatisfied with refunds, the course of action is to file complaints with the tribunal.

Carly Aubertin and her husband Rob McLean are upset that they filed a complaint in April, which has been sitting in limbo ever since.

“It’s just so disheartening,” said Aubertin. “It’s frustrating that the government’s not there to support us.” 

The Ontario residents are considering selling their home as they wrestle with living off a single income because the pandemic has hurt McLean’s business. Sunwing gave them a voucher for a cancelled trip to Antigua due to COVID, rather than a full refund that could help pay their mortgage until the spring.

 “Right now, I mean, $5,000? There’s five months of mortgage right there,” she said.

Long backlog before pandemic started

The delay is partially due to a two-year backlog of complaints the CTA received before the pandemic struck. The backlog is tied to a significant influx of complaints received after new air passenger protection regulations came into effect in December 2019.

COVID-19 hampered further efforts to process complaints; the CTA temporarily paused its discussions with airlines regarding “dispute resolution activities” until June 30, 2020 to allow airlines to focus on more urgent matters. The agency also granted airlines an extension until Oct. 28 to respond to passengers seeking compensation.

But the CTA says it’s making progress on tackling the caseload. The agency processed a record number of complaints in the past fiscal year. The administrative tribunal also received a funding boost to get through cases more quickly and says it’s weeks away from starting on complaints filed during the pandemic.

WATCH | Thousands of Canadian travellers are waiting for flight refunds:

CBC News has learned that despite receiving thousands of complaints from travellers looking for refunds for flights cancelled due to COVID-19, the Canadian Transportation Agency has not settled a single one. 1:59

An ongoing battle for closure

The agency said it’s now working through about 17,300 complaints. 

Those includes complaints from Canadians like Aubertin and McLean, who spent about $5,000 for a spring vacation with a group of friends to celebrate some of their 40th and 50th birthdays.

McLean found himself without work during the pandemic, meaning the Port Robinson, Ont., couple has started to dip into their retirement savings. His last pay cheque was in February. 

“It’s frustrating because in these times we hear the leaders of our country saying to look out for everybody and do the right thing and respect your community, and then to allow these multimillion dollar companies to keep our money interest free for an extended period of time doesn’t feel like the right thing to us,” McLean said. 

Aubertin said the obstacles have been particularly disappointing given that other countries have taken a firmer stance on helping passengers.

In April, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a notice reminding U.S. and foreign airlines that they “remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers” despite the pandemic and warned that it would take “enforcement action” as necessary.

Carly Aubertin, left, and Rob McLean, right, have emailed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for help — but his office said the couple’s only option was to file a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency. (Submitted)

In Canada, airlines have been asking the government for financial help to survive an unprecedented drop in business during the height of the pandemic. In many cases, airlines have been issuing travel vouchers redeemable for two years, rather than refunds. 

The CTA said it issued a “non-binding statement” on issuing vouchers in the face of “unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances” during the pandemic.

The agency said the industry collapsed worldwide and there was an “absence of any general minimum obligation under the law for airlines to pay refunds for flights cancelled for reasons beyond their control.”

After months of public outrage, WestJet announced last week it was changing its refund policy on Nov. 2 to give customers back money for flights cancelled due to COVID-19.

Air Canada took to Twitter shortly afterwards and said it’s already repaid $1.2 billion to date for refundable tickets cancelled during the pandemic.

John Gradek, a former Air Canada executive and lecturer at McGill University’s aviation management program, said the timing is no coincidence.

Canada’s major airlines — WestJet, Air Canada, Air Transat, Sunwing and Swoop — are facing a series of class action lawsuits over refunds during COVID and the federal court certification hearing is scheduled for Nov. 2. 

Gradek also believes airlines realized there wasn’t public support for a government bailout unless carriers refunded passengers first. The Globe and Mail reported Friday cabinet is currently deliberating a package for the aviation sector that includes scaling back airport fee increases and low interest loans.

CTA losing credibility, Bloc MP says

Passengers and consumers have a right to feel upset about the federal government’s lack of action, said Bloc Québécois MP and transport critic Xavier Barsalou-Duval.

On Friday, he presented a bill seeking to amend the Canada Transportation Act in order to ensure passengers are fully refunded in the event that an air carrier cancels a flight. 

He said Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s failure to resolve the issue has put undue pressure on the CTA.

“By not acting, Mr. Garneau’s transferring the weight of the situation on the shoulders of the CTA and that’s a big problem,” said Barsalou-Duval. 

“[The CTA is] losing credibility. And that’s the big problem because usually they’re supposed to… apply the rules, apply the law.”

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s office has stated for months that he sympathizes with those seeking refunds, while reiterating that airlines are going through a difficult time. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In a statement to CBC News on Sunday, Garneau said he understood the frustration.

“This situation is far from ideal,” he said. “We are encouraged to see that some airlines have refunded their customers, and expect air carriers will do their best to accommodate passengers under these extraordinary circumstances,” the statement read.

“This is an important issue to Canadians. We also continue to work with the airlines to address the overall challenges they are facing due to the pandemic.”

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Thanksgiving, fewer restrictions contributing to Canada's surge in COVID-19 cases, experts say – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Experts say there are a variety of factors contributing to Canada’s recent surge in record breaking COVID-19 cases including Thanksgiving celebrations, fewer restrictions and increased testing capacity.

Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease expert at the Jewish General Hospital and McGill University in Montreal, told CTVNews.ca family gatherings that occurred two weeks ago are a “likely contributor to the higher numbers of cases that many provinces have been reporting” in recent days.

Quebec continues to be the epicentre of the pandemic in Canada, surpassing more than 100,000 confirmed positive cases in the province on Sunday. Ontario, the second hardest hit province, registered more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time, setting another record for the number of infections in a single day.

Ontario’s Ministry of Health says Thanksgiving may be to blame for the spike while Alberta’s top doctor also cited the holiday as the source of surging coronavirus cases there.

“The leading source of exposures for active cases right now are close contacts, and many of the cases that we are seeing now are the result of spread over Thanksgiving when families gathered together,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said in her provincial update on Thursday.

“People did not mean to spread COVID, but it is a reminder where social gatherings, where social distancing and masking are not used consistently are a significant risk for spread.”

Prairie numbers confirm the situation is growing more dire, with Alberta yet again breaking two records on Friday, reporting an unprecedented 432 new cases and 3,651 active cases ahead of the weekend.

Saskatchewan announced 78 new cases of COVID-19, making it the second province to report a new single-day high on Saturday, while Manitoba recorded 153 new cases and two additional deaths, the fifth consecutive day new cases have topped 100.

However, Oughton warned that the Thanksgiving holiday is not the only reason why cases are increasing across the country.

“Understanding why these transmissions are occurring in real time is important if we want to identify new risk factors and reduce numbers of new infections before we see increases in more vulnerable populations,” Oughton explained in an email on Sunday.

He said the change in weather may have more Canadians spending time indoors with poorer ventilation and in closer proximity to others compared to the summer months, giving more opportunities for transmission.

In addition, Oughton said provinces may be seeing higher case numbers now than during the first wave because testing capacity has increased in many areas. For example, Quebec’s goal was to conduct 14,000 tests per day during the first wave. Now, the province is recording around 25,000 tests each day.

“It is possible that there were more cases in the first wave that were never tested, and that those ‘missed’ cases were more similar to the cases we are seeing today,” Oughton said.

MORE RESTRICTIONS NEEDED

Despite the Thanksgiving holiday being over, Dr. Ronald St. John, the former director-general of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response, is not sure that case numbers will now begin to decrease.

He told CTV news Channel on Sunday that the steady upwards trends of infections is worrisome.

“The important thing… is to look back over a period of days to see what the trend might be, and when I say trend I mean are cases going up at a steady rate, or are they actually accelerating?” St. John said. “And it looks like it’s a fairly steady trend upwards.”

St. John said COVID fatigue may be a reason why cases are continuing to increase as Canadians grow tired of taking virus precautions.

“We have a problem in terms of the public health measures that we can use to try to contain this virus. They depend on people’s behaviour, individually and collectively… and I think people are getting very tired and as a result, I think there are some lapses in following the precautions recommended by authorities,” he explained.

St. John warned that fewer virus restrictions and a decreased compliance with those restrictions may add to the surge of infections in the coming days.

“This virus will step in wherever somebody makes an exception to the public health measures, and this virus will cause more infections, chains of infections and death increases as we’ve seen in these provinces,” he said.

Dr. Andrew Morris, a professor in the department of medicine at the University of Toronto who studies infectious diseases, says the rising tide of cases across much of Canada appears unlikely to recede if stricter measures are not imposed.

“This is a disease that grows exponentially … and when things ramp up quickly they come on with gangbusters. We’ve seen that everywhere else around the world right now, especially in Europe,” Morris previously told The Canadian Press.

“As it moves to older adults, you’re going to see more people proportionally with severe disease. I believe we’re at a point right now where these increases are largely inevitable unless there’s more substantial action to try to tamp all of this second wave down.”

Morris said tighter limits on group gatherings and indoor activities may be necessary.

“It is a mindset … When the public hears that there’s still a fair amount of freedom from the government, what that also tells them is that it really isn’t so bad right now,” he said.

On Sunday, Canada’s top physician warned that minimizing the impact of COVID-19 will only work if everyone follows public health guidelines.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the number of Canadians experiencing severe illness is already on the rise amid the spike in cases, raising concerns about hospital capacity.

To ensure ICUs don’t become overwhelmed, she reminded Canadians to keep physically a part.

“While I know keeping physically apart is difficult, particularly when we want to mark life’s important moments like weddings and funerals, now is not the time for hosting large in-person gatherings,” Tam said in a written statement.

“Right now, doing the best thing to keep our family, friends and community safer means keeping safely apart, connecting virtually, and finding safer ways to care and support each other.”

She implored Canadians to continue doing their part to help limit the spread of COVID-19 by keeping social circles small, maintain physical distancing and hand hygiene, and wear face masks when appropriate.

With files from The Canadian Press

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