Only fully vaccinated people to be allowed in House of Commons precinct

Vax mandate for Commons

When Parliament resumes on Nov. 22, no one will be allowed into the House of Commons precinct unless they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

That will present a problem for Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole, who has refused to say how many of his 118 MPs are fully vaccinated.

All other parties say that all of their MPs have had two shots of a Health Canada-approved vaccine.

The all-party board of internal economy has decided that only fully vaccinated individuals will be allowed to enter the House of Commons precinct.

That includes members of Parliament, their staff, political research office employees, administration employees, journalists, parliamentary business visitors, contractors and consultants.

The precinct will remain closed to members of the public and anyone allowed in will have to wear a mask, except when they are at a work station that allows for two-metres of physical distance.


Postelection review to probe where Conservatives bled votes to People's Party, NDP

Where the Tories bled votes

The former MP leading the review into the Conservatives’ election performance says it will examine how Tories lost votes to Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada.

James Cumming, an Alberta representative who lost his seat to the Liberals' Randy Boissonnault, says he will begin reaching out to candidates and campaign teams this week.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole tapped Cumming to review the party's campaign after it was defeated by the Liberals and won two fewer seats than it did in the 2019 federal vote.

Cumming says he will probe the party's campaign strategy, its ground game and the data it used, as well as O'Toole's tour over the 36-day race.

One of the questions hanging over the Conservatives is the role Bernier's right-wing populist party played in their loss.

During his second federal election as PPC leader, Bernier shifted his focus away from immigration and largely railed against vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 health measures.

Although the PPC failed once again to win any seats in the House of Commons, the Tory review will examine how vote splitting on the right impacted Conservatives across the country.

“Anywhere that we’ve had bleed of vote, I think that that’s important that we study and understand what the factors were, so the PPC would represent some of that," Cumming said in an interview.

“In Alberta we saw significant bleed of vote to the NDP, so that’s an entirely different situation … in all cases we have to look at where we performed and where we didn’t perform and do that analysis on a riding-by-riding basis, region-by-region basis to better understand what the dynamics are within that vote.”

O'Toole himself spent the final days of the campaign making increasingly direct warnings to Conservative supporters not to split the vote by casting a ballot for Bernier, cautioning that doing so would lead to another Liberal government.

Green Party lays off core staff members amid financial drought, internal strife

Greens lay off half of staff

Layoffs are once again hitting the Green Party as party brass look to shave costs at an organization facing persistent financial and political woes.

Three senior party officials, who were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about internal matters, say the Greens are temporarily laying off half of their staff, or about 10 employees, effective today.

The sources say Green executive director Dana Taylor is meeting one on one with affected workers throughout the day to inform them.

The culling will affect staff in the office of Leader Annamie Paul as well as in communications and mobilization, marking a partial repeat of temporary layoffs announced last June.

Paul, who announced last month she would resign and has little say in the layoffs, remains in the top spot as she negotiates with Green executives about compensation for costs incurred during legal battles with the party, sources say.

On top of financial issues, Greens face a self-reckoning after last month's federal election where the party maintained two seats in the House of Commons but saw its share of the popular vote tumble to two per cent, capping off a year marked by power struggles, bitter feuds and a defection to the Liberals by a New Brunswick MP.

Newfoundland and Labrador says soft drink tax coming in 2022 will be Canada's first

Nfld to tax soft drinks

Newfoundland and Labrador has unveiled details of what it says will be the country's first tax on sugary drinks.

Government officials said today the tax will hike prices on drinks with added sugars by 20 cents a litre beginning in September 2022.

Provincial officials say the tax, expected to raise roughly $9 million a year, will be unique in Canada.

Finance Minister Siobhan Coady says the tax is part of the government’s effort to make Newfoundland and Labrador one of Canada's healthiest provinces by 2031.

But Memorial University professor Atanu Sarkar wonders if the tax will largely be borne by those living in the many Newfoundland and Labrador towns where the water isn't drinkable.

The associate professor of environmental and occupational health notes that bottled water is often more expensive than soft drinks, and if the tax doesn't change that, people in those communities aren't likely to switch.

'We have made the impossible possible': Calgary, Edmonton celebrate mayoral firsts

Mayoral firsts in Alberta

Alberta's two major cities are set to make history in their mayoral races after Monday's municipal elections across the province.

Jyoti Gondek is to become Calgary's first female mayor and Edmonton voters appear to have elected the city's first person of colour as mayor.

Gondek will replace Naheed Nenshi, who held the city's top job for more than a decade.

"Thank you, Calgary, with all of my heart," Gondek said late Monday during her victory speech. "Thank you for engaging in democracy and sending a clear signal about what our future looks like.

"Thank you for embracing a vision of promise and opportunity."

Nenshi responded to the unofficial results on social media.

"History. Made," he wrote as he congratulated Gondek on her win. He, too, made history as the first Muslim mayor of a large North American city. Earlier Monday, he thanked Calgarians for giving him the "honour of his life."

Gondek served as a city councillor in Calgary for four years, where she championed public transit, police reform and city growth.

Her mayoral campaign has focused on issues such as investing in transportation, getting more property tax dollars from the provincial government and making Calgary a "centre for excellence" to boost social, economic and environmental recovery.

In Edmonton, former federal cabinet minister Amarjeet Sohi, a Sikh immigrant from India, will likely become the first mayor of colour in the provincial capital.

"As an 18-year-old immigrant without much to my name, I had ambitions and dreams to build a better life in a new home — dreams that sometimes seemed impossible," Sohi said during his victory speech late Monday. "Today, because of you, because of everyone in this room, we have made the impossible possible."

He was a city bus driver and an Edmonton city councillor before entering federal politics and serving as Minister of Natural Resources and Minister of Infrastructure and Communities under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Sohi will take over from Don Iveson, who announced he wouldn't run for re-election after serving two terms as mayor. In a statement, Iveson said Edmonton will thrive under Sohi's leadership.

"I've had the pleasure of working with Mayor-elect Sohi during his time as (a) city councillor and have always appreciated and been inspired by how hard he has worked for our community," said Iveson.

Both newly elected mayors were leading with about 45 per cent of the votes with almost all polls reporting.

The election results, which also included mayors, councillors and school board trustees across the province, will be made official Friday.

Edmonton Elections said more than 229,000 residents voted in the municipal election. In Calgary, voter turnout exceeded 382,000 people — though neither tally is finalized.

Provincial referendum questions on the federal equalization program and daylight time were also on the ballot. Elections Alberta said those results won't be available until Oct. 26.

Voters in Calgary were asked in a plebiscite about whether to return fluoride to the city's drinking water. Unofficial results show the majority voting in favour.

Montreal police seek teen suspects in stabbing death of 16-year-old boy

Teen killed in stabbing

Montreal police are looking for three suspects after a 16-year-old boy was fatally stabbed Monday afternoon in the city's west end.

Police confirmed Monday night that the victim had died from his injuries after being rushed to hospital.

Raphaël Bergeron, a Montreal police spokesman, said the 16-year-old was stabbed in the upper body during an altercation involving a group of young people at about 3 p.m. in the city's Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood.

The victim sought help inside a nearby school before first responders arrived.

The suspects, who had fled on foot by the time police arrived, are believed to be between 16 and 18 years of age.

The boy is the 25th homicide victim on the island of Montreal this year.

Facebook whistleblower rekindles questions about cracking down on Facebook in Canada

Crack down on Facebook?

The fallout from a Facebook whistleblower's explosive revelations this month continues to descend on Canada as politicians and experts grapple with how to regulate Big Tech amid renewed questions on the harm it can wreak.

A prolonged "techlash" over the past few years has seen western countries adopt varying degrees of platform regulation, with users becoming increasingly alive to the fractured civic bonds brought on by digital echo chambers. But so far no single approach to regulating and policing the platforms has emerged as a solution.

New Democrats are the latest to demand a federal government crackdown on social media giants. On Monday, NDP MP Charlie Angus called on Ottawa to establish an independent watchdog that tackles disinformation, hateful posts and algorithm transparency, citing a former Facebook executive .

Frances Haugen testified before a U.S. Senate committee on Oct. 5 that the company's products harm children and fuel polarization in the U.S., a claim supported by internal company research leaked to the Wall Street Journal.

"Ms. Haugen reveals that Facebook knew that its algorithms are driving hate content and leading to breakdown in civic engagement," Angus said.

"Facebook made the decision to incentivize profits through its use of its algorithms over the well-being of its users."

As the company confronts intense public scrutiny over how its coding fans inflammatory rhetoric and affects users' self-esteem, Angus is proposing to create an independent ombudsman accountable to the House of Commons, akin to Canada's ethics and privacy commissioners.

"Rather than relying on outdated institutions like the Competition Bureau or the CRTC, it's time for the federal government to establish a regulator that actually understands this file," he said.

Facebook Canada said it continues to make investments that target misinformation and harmful content, and stands ready to collaborate with lawmakers on a new legal frameworks for platforms.

“As we’ve shared, we welcome regulation and have been vocal calling for a new set of public rules for all technology companies to follow. It’s been 25 years since the rules for the Internet have been updated and it’s time for industry standards to be introduced so private companies aren’t making these decisions on their own," Rachel Curran, policy manager at Facebook Canada, said in a statement.

Online hate remains on Ottawa's radar as global observers continue to question Facebook's role in tragedies ranging from the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand to deadly military violence directed at Myanmar's Rohingya minority, along with racist posts in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to overhaul internet rules after a pair of bills aiming to regulate social media giants and tackle online hate died on the order paper this year.

In last month's federal election campaign, he promised to introduce legislation within 100 days of forming government that combats harmful online materials.

His plan would create a digital safety commissioner to enforce a new regime that targets child pornography, terrorist content, hate speech and other harmful posts on social media platforms. The regulator could order social media companies to take down posts within 24 hours.

Sam Andrey, director of policy and research at the Ryerson Leadership Lab, welcomes the new blueprint. But he suggested enhancing transparency at tech giants by requiring details on algorithms, not just company data on illegal content and post takedowns.

Andrey also said the government's proposal targets sites where the posts are public such as YouTube and Facebook, but not private messages on platforms such as the Facebook-owned WhatsApp.

"But there's mounting evidence ... that private platforms, including things like WhatsApp or WeChat, can contribute to the spread of online harm," he said, suggesting a way to flag troubling messages.

Charter questions of privacy and free expression may well come into play as the government considers whether the regime should cover private communication, whether to expand its scope to other harmful activity such as impersonation and how proactive the digital safety commissioner and accompanying tribunal could be.

Delaying Parliament's return until Nov. 22 will cut off COVID-19 benefits: NDP

Delayed Parliament return

Peter Julian, the NDP House leader, has written to the government complaining about its decision to delay the return of Parliament.

Julian says delaying MPs' return to the House of Commons until Nov. 22 will mean that emergency COVID-19 benefits will expire before Parliament can renew them.

The Canada Recovery Benefit, and others set up by the government to help Canadians through the pandemic, are due to expire on Saturday.

The cabinet can extend most COVID-19 benefits until Nov. 20 without a new law, but a new bill would have to be passed through Parliament to extend them beyond that date.

The emergency benefits, set up by the government to help Canadians and businesses hit by the pandemic, could then be applied retroactively, but Parliament would have to pass a law first.

Two benefits — the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy — could be extended until Nov. 30 without a new law.

Julian says in his letter to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and government House leader Pablo Rodriguez that delaying the return of MPs for more than two months after the election is "indefensible."

He said the “very late return date” would not give MPs the time to pass legislation to prevent loss of support for people in the fourth wave.

The government has not said if it plans to extend the COVID-19 benefits further, but Rodriguez's office says when Parliament returns there will be an "immediate focus" on the benefits people and businesses rely on during the pandemic.

It hinted that, with co-operation from opposition parties, action could be taken on COVID-19 supports swiftly once Parliament returns.

The prime minister plans to call the leaders of opposition parties this week to discuss "the priorities that Canadians have for us all," Mark Kennedy, spokesman for Rodriguez, told The Canadian Press.

He said the government is committed "to finding common ground in this Parliament and to working with other parties."

"As we said on Friday, one of the immediate areas of focus when Parliament returns on Nov. 22 will be COVID-19 support benefits that many Canadians and businesses still rely on," Kennedy said. "We will work collaboratively with all parliamentarians on this issue. There is no reason Parliament can’t act quickly if parties work together to do the right thing."

Rodriguez's office also said all MPs should be fully vaccinated, unless they have a valid medical reason, before they "set foot on the floor of the House of Commons."

Julian said in his letter that because the Sept. 20 election returned a minority Liberal government like last time, "there is no justification for a more than two-month delay in recalling the House."

"In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the impacts of a fourth wave, this delay is even more indefensible. As you know full well, the Canada Recovery Benefit and other emergency benefits for individuals and for businesses will be expiring in the coming weeks, and legislative change is needed to extend these beyond November," his letter said.

The government has already extended COVID-19 benefits, including the Canada Recovery Benefit, for people who have lost income due to the pandemic.

Feds sending more help to NWT to deal with COVID-19 surge

Feds send help to NWT

The federal government is sending more help to the Northwest Territories to deal with a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says Ottawa has approved a request from the territory to provide "surge capacity support" for infection prevention and control, contact tracing and testing.

The support — 10 specialists from the Canadian Red Cross — will be effective until Nov. 14, with the possibility of a two-week extension.

That's on top of previous help provided through the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada for infection control and contact tracing.

After months of zero new cases of COVID-19, the territory began seeing a spike in cases in mid-August.

As of Monday, there were 263 active cases in the Northwest Territories, which last week extended a territory-wide public health emergency until Oct. 26.

The NWT government earlier on Monday announced that as of November 30th, all of its employees will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Previously, the policy only applied to government employees working with vulnerable populations.

The territory's finance minister, Caroline Wawzonek, explained in a news release that the change was necessary because of the impact the outbreak has had since the policy was initially considered.

The release noted that accommodations to the policy will be considered on a case-by-case basis for medical reasons or based on protected grounds under the Human Rights Act.

It also noted that unions, Indigenous governments and others were consulted in the drafting of the policy.

Marilou McPhedran resigns from senators' group before hearing on her expulsion

Senator to leave group

A senator resigned Monday from the upper chamber's biggest parliamentary group before a hearing could take place to consider kicking her out.

Sen. Marilou McPhedran resigned from the Independent Senators’ Group (ISG) because she did not think she would receive a fair hearing.

McPhedran, who was named to the Senate in 2016 by the prime minister, says in a resignation letter that the hearing “seems preordained in its negative outcome for me.”

A hearing set up to consider expelling her was set up after she sent an email in September to all senators questioning how the chamber’s ethics code was being applied.

McPhedran was also concerned about the Senate's policy on prevention of sexual harassment, and disagreed with the ISG about its approach to this as well as other issues.

In her resignation letter to the Independent Senators' Group, sent to all members, she outlines a series of criticisms, including the fact that a request for her hearing to be made in public was refused.

Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, facilitator of the ISG, says McPhedran was “offered an opportunity to defend herself through a fair and impartial hearing according to the provisions of the ISG charter."

“Her resignation letter is an attempt to cast doubt on the integrity of the hearing itself and raise issues that are not relevant to the expulsion hearing. By raising these issues outside of the hearing process, she also deprived ISG members the opportunity to hear the case for her expulsion and the rebuttal to her claims," he said.

McPhedran, a lawyer and human rights advocate, plans to stay in the Senate as an unaffiliated independent senator.

She told The Canadian Press: "In my five years as a senator I have appreciated my membership of the Independent Senators Group, but it is clearly time to leave and I am feeling sadness but I am also feeling relief and a sense of optimism about what I will be able to do as an unaffiliated independent senator."

She said in a statement that she looked forward to "collaborating with senators of all groups and caucuses on legislation, issues, and policies that further the public interest."

She said she wants to focus on reform to lower the voting age to 16 as well as "Senate reform and modernization."

Two Quebec companies unveil all-electric ambulance with eye to global market

Electric ambulances coming

Quebec expects to have its first all-electric ambulances hit the road next year, which provincial Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon said Monday will position the province as a leader in electric transportation.

Demers Ambulances and Lion Electric unveiled at a news conference in Beloeil, south of Montreal, their first 100 per cent electric ambulance, which they described as the "ambulance of the future."

Demers Ambulances president Alain Brunelle and Lion Electric president Marc Bédard said the new model has been five years in the making and was designed according to needs expressed by paramedics.

"This is an extraordinary evolution for paramedics' security, and also for their — and their patients' — comfort," Brunelle said. "It's the only 100 per cent electric vehicle, built to be an ambulance, in the world."

The companies hope to deploy 1,500 vehicles in North America before 2026, and to eventually market it globally with financial support from the federal and provincial governments.

Fitzgibbon said Quebec invested $8 million in the project, made possible through Quebec's Electrification and Climate Change Fund.

"It unites Quebec champions around a shared project of innovation," Fitzgibbon said at the press conference. "The investment is making us proud, as it symbolizes the success, the intelligence and innovation of Quebec."

Lion Electric will build the chassis and the batteries at its plants in St-Jérôme and Mirabel, while Demers Ambulances will look after the medical compartment and the final assembly.

Bédard said Lion's experience building a fleet of electric buses and trucks that has covered more than 13 million kilometres made it possible for the company to develop the new ambulance. He said the vehicle will be able to travel 200 kilometres on a single charge.

"We want a society with better health and to allow future generations to breathe easily," Bédard said. "For us, this ambulance is to paramedics, and to society, what a school bus is to our children."

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé also welcomed the project, saying the health-care system needs innovation. He said the design of the new ambulances will allow paramedics to provide faster and better care across the province. "We need to look at things differently," Dubé said, referring to the new ambulance as "a small hospital."

Air Canada re-booking and refunding customers after Hong Kong COVID ban

Air Canada stunned by ban

Air Canada is in the process of re-booking and refunding passengers affected by Hong Kong’s temporary ban on its flights from Vancouver.

The airline and its customers were left scrambling over the weekend when Hong Kong’s department of health suddenly – and without too much explanation – banned Air Canada from flying into the city from Vancouver from Oct. 16 to 29.

According to a statement issued Friday, one passenger aboard Air Canada flight AC007, arriving in Hong Kong from Vancouver on Oct. 13, was confirmed to have COVID-19 by arrival testing.

Another passenger on that flight failed to comply with requirements under the Prevention and Control of Disease (Regulation of Cross-boundary Conveyances and Travellers) Regulation.

Hong Kong had 59 new cases of COVID-19 between Oct. 1 and 14, with one of them being a locally spread case of "unknown origin."

In a statement issued to the Richmond News, the airline confirmed that its Vancouver to Hong Kong passenger flights on Oct. 16, 29, 23 and 26 have been cancelled.

However, Air Canada’s Toronto-Hong Kong passenger flights and Vancouver-Hong Kong cargo flights “are not affected and will continue to operate as scheduled,” read the statement.

The airline said it doesn’t have any information on how many customers are impacted, but added that passengers affected from the four cancelled flights are being rebooked and offered travel options, such as travel at a later date, “where available and suitable for the customer.”

The airline stressed that customers are also eligible for a refund of the remaining value of their tickets “if we are unable to rebook them on a new flight departing within three hours of their original departure time.”

Hong Kong also reported nine imported cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The patients include seven women and two men, aged three to 68, who arrived from Canada, the Philippines, Russia, Egypt, India and the Maldives.

Of the nine patients, two had symptoms. Six had received two COVID-19 vaccine doses, including one of the patients who had symptoms.

Eight of the cases were mutant strains, while the mutation test result of the ninth case was still pending, according to a statement from the city’s health department.

Meanwhile, Glynnis Chan, the owner of Richmond-based Happy Times Travel and Tour Ltd, told the News she was woken in the middle of the night over the weekend by a frantic customer who had learned of the flight ban.

“A few clients are concerned that they couldn’t fly back to Hong Kong in time, including one client who had to attend his dad’s funerals,” said Chan.

Chan later figured out a solution to help clients reschedule and rebook flight tickets and accommodations, ensuring that they won’t miss anything important.

“I have been worried sick for my clients once they left Canada to Hong Kong and until they returned back to Canada again,” Chan added.

“The change is unpredictable and a small adjustment might require our team to reschedule and rearrange the whole trip.”

As a result of the Air Canada ban, Cathay Pacific’s direct flights to Hong Kong have spiked in price to around $3,618.

People can still travel to Hong Kong via Air Canada if they are comfortable with a 30-hour trip, including two additional stops, and be willing to cough up $5,138.

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