Canada to announce easing of some travel restrictions after passing vaccination threshold


The federal government is set to announce Monday the loosening of some border restrictions for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents but says “the finish line” won’t come until there are significantly increased vaccination rates in Canada.

The changes to the border restrictions will be limited to a few measures, with all non-essential travel still discouraged, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton in an interview that aired Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live.

There would be “changes with respect to the government-assisted hotels, perhaps some implication on who would be subject to quarantine, what it means to be a fully vaccinated traveller and what changes can now be accommodated for those people who are, in fact, fully vaccinated,” Blair said.

Ottawa announced Friday it would be continuing existing restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border for at least another month, until July 21, but that changes would be coming on Monday for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents.

The shift in policy at the border comes as many Canadian provinces have hit key vaccination targets — with more than 75 per cent of eligible Canadians receiving at least one dose, and over 20 per cent receiving two.

The Rainbow Bridge spans the Niagara River and connects Niagara Falls, N.Y., left, to Niagara Falls, Ont. Restrictions on non-essential travel were extended Friday for another month, but some easing of restrictions for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents is set to be announced by Ottawa on Monday. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/The Associated Press)

Pressure from both sides of the border

Mayors of Canadian border cities have loudly and frequently called for more clarity from the federal government.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley told Barton he believed the extension of restrictions to late July made sense but that better communication is needed.

“So far, all we get is leaks of information. We want to see a clear plan and a crisp plan that’s understandable to Canadians,” he said.

Bradley added that he had long felt fully vaccinated travellers should be able to more easily cross the border but that “it could all go off the rails with the [COVID-19] variant. I hope that doesn’t happen. People are tired, people are cranky. They want to get back to our normal life. And I’m hoping with the double vaccination, that will be the ticket to do so.”

Meanwhile, elected officials in the United States reacted harshly to the news on Friday of the extended border measures.

“I wish there was a more artful way to say this — but this is bullshit,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, a Democratic congressman whose Buffalo, N.Y., district touches the border.

Blair said the government was “working cautiously but steadily toward a phased reopening.”

But the public safety minister warned that Canada wouldn’t reach “the finish line” until about 75 per cent of eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated.

That’s the number the Public Health Agency of Canada has cited as the point at which major restrictions, such as those on indoor gatherings outside of households, could be safely lifted and at which Blair said more “changes are possible” at the border. He did not specify what those changes would be.

Blair also reiterated that the government was remaining cautious and monitoring the situation around variants of concern when considering changes to border policy. Government officials have said border measures will respond to changing epidemiological circumstances.

“We’re moving toward those targets and we’re making changes, I think, appropriate to the level of vaccination that’s currently in place,” he said.

“We’ve hit an important benchmark, but we haven’t reached the finish line.”

More travellers expected after rule change

Blair told Barton that he expects the changes in rules for fully vaccinated travellers would impact the number of people coming to Canada and that he has been working with PHAC and border services to ensure there was appropriate capacity.

“I’m absolutely certain it’s going to have an impact on traveller volumes,” Blair said, adding that there were likely many Canadians thinking of travelling to the United States to take care of property.

To determine whether travellers returning to Canada are fully vaccinated, Blair reiterated the government was co-ordinating with international partners, including the U.S. and European countries, on a vaccine verification system for international travel.

“We’re working with our global partners, particularly with the United States, in the development of the vaccine certification system that will be very efficient and be able to gain access and utilize appropriately — and with appropriate personal privacy concerns accommodated within it.”

But as an “interim” measure, Blair said the ArriveCAN app — currently in use at the border  — would be modified to enable it to accept vaccine verification documents.

“We believe this app is going to help us accommodate the inevitable increase in traveller volumes,” he said.

You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC’s streaming service.

 



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Canadian government approves modified quarantine for Olympic athletes


The federal government has approved a travel exemption for Canada’s Olympic hopefuls that will allow them to train on home soil without undergoing a 14-day quarantine after returning to the country.

Minister of Immigration Marco Mendicino said in a statement Friday that the government issued the exemption after reviewing a plan to create modified quarantine training bubbles for the athletes put forward by the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committees and Own the Podium.

“The plan contains significant measures to ensure the safety of athletes, coaching staff and the public,” he said.

Athletes and staff will still need to stay at a government-authorized hotel when they return to Canada, but once they receive a negative result, they’ll be able to join one of four modified quarantine bubbles in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary or Victoria.

In the bubble, they’ll be restricted to their accommodation and training facilities, and won’t be able to interact with the public.

Each bubble will have a “compliance officer” and athletes and staff will be tested for COVID-19 “at regular intervals” about every second day.

Anyone who strays from the conditions set out for the bubbles will be removed from training, will have to complete a standard 14-day quarantine, and could face fines or prosecution.

“We continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation around the world and base our decisions on science, the best data available and the advice of public health officials at the local, provincial and federal levels,” Mendicino said.

Protocols for the bubbles were developed with “a meticulous focus on health and safety,” David Shoemaker, CEO and secretary general of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said in a statement sent to CBC Sports.

“With a little more than a month to go until the Tokyo Olympic Games, athletes are in their final stages of training,” he said. “The opportunity to access a safe training bubble that protects the athletes and their communities is an incredibly important part of their preparation.”

The Tokyo Olympics start on July 23.

‘Likely too late’

Race walker Evan Dunfee said the new measures might come too late for some Canadian athletes.

“Great. But this is likely too late to allow our NCAA Track & Field athletes the opportunity to compete at Nationals,” Dunfee wrote on Twitter. “There is at least one athlete whose opportunity to make the Olympic team has been destroyed by not being allowed to compete, and that sucks.”

The Canadian track and field championships start next Thursday.

Earlier this month, the federal government issued a travel exemption for the NHL playoffs that allows teams to cross the border without a 14-day quarantine through the final two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Players and staff are tested pre- and post-departure when crossing the border, and are confined to their hotels and the arena on the road, but those with Canadian teams can stay at home while playing in Canada.

The Montreal Canadiens — the only Canadian team remaining in the playoffs — was set to host the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup semifinal Friday, marking the first time a U.S.-based team played in Canada since March 2020.



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All this talk about the Big Three, the spectrum auction and 5G — what does it all mean?


Explainer: If you’re a latecomer to the high-stakes telecom auction, here’s a primer that will help bring you up to speed

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One of the most important auctions in Canadian history is underway.

The federal government began taking bids for 5G wireless spectrum at 10 a.m. Ottawa time on June 15. The closed-door process is expected to last several weeks, as two dozen hopefuls battle for the right to carry the signals that will facilitate the next phase of the country’s shift to a digital economy. So while it’s safe to say the government is in line to make billions of dollars, it will be a little while before we know who will come away with the rights to provide the super-fast internet that will power the near future.

However, we’ve all had plenty of other things to think about over the past year. If you’re a latecomer to the high-stakes telecom auction, here’s a primer that will help bring you up to speed.

What is the spectrum auction?

Let’s clear up exactly what spectrum is. In simple terms, spectrum refers to the radio frequencies that devices such as your smartphone or even cable TV use. There are three ranges of spectrum: low-band, mid-band and high-band. The higher the range, the more devices it can handle; however, it has a smaller coverage area. The lower the range, the fewer devices it can handle but the coverage area is larger.

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For this auction, the government is offering up mid-band spectrum at 3500 MHz, which is suitable for 5G, the critical ingredient to launching the economy into the future. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) controls the auctions for broadcast, which the government has managed since the 1990s, when demand exceeded spectrum supply. Cable, phone and internet companies will bid over the several weeks that the CRTC says will be needed to complete the auction. Companies will be fighting over 1,504 licences, which cover 172 service areas across the country.

Spectrum is highly prized as it’s core to the business operations of cable and internet companies. The major players, such as BCE Inc., No. 22 on the Financial Post’s latest ranking of Canada’s 500 biggest companies, are willing to pay a lot of money for licences. At the last auction in 2019, Rogers Communications Inc. (No. 35 on the FP 500 list) forked over more than $1.72 billion for 52 licences. With this in mind, the CRTC has decided to preserve at least a third of the licences for smaller regional companies such as Halifax-based Eastlink Inc. and Woodstock, N.B.-based Xplornet Communications Inc.

What’s the big deal about this auction?

The main reason there’s so much chatter surrounding this auction is because the world is shifting to 5G internet, which can’t be delivered on the spectrum most telecommunications companies currently own. 5G will help the future economy as technology advances, facilitating easier communication between devices (think self-driving cars), allowing more devices on the network and faster speeds.

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Another factor that is particularly important to the government is rural connectivity. In the 2021 budget, the Finance Department said Ottawa will spend $2.75 billion to bring more rural Canadians high-speed internet with the ultimate goal of making high-speed access available to all of Canada in the next nine years.

For this auction, the CRTC is “imposing (its) strongest deployment requirements to date to ensure that this spectrum is put to use sooner in rural areas,” a spokesperson told reporters at a briefing ahead of the auction. Essentially, in buying a licence, winners of spectrum will have to agree to deployment schedules for 5G coverage. For example, in rural areas, the company must set up the networks to deploy enough spectrum to cover at least 20 per cent of the population within seven years and 60 per cent within 20 years.

Companies that have existing infrastructure will be expected to implement 90 per cent of the spectrum within seven years and 95 per cent within 10 years in sparsely populated areas.

Who are the key players?

Twenty-three companies have registered to participate in the auction. The main players are well known: Toronto-based Rogers; Montreal-based BCE, which owns Bell Canada; and Vancouver-based Telus Communications Inc. But there are also a number of smaller companies that will be seeking to secure their regional strongholds, including TBayTel of Thunder Bay, Ont. and Sogetel Inc. from Nicolet, Quebec.

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The CRTC is offering spectrum on a more localized basis this time, unlike previous auctions, where the prizes aligned with provincial boundaries. This will allow companies to “target their bidding to particular service areas rather than requiring them to bid on large regional licences that may not fit their business plans,” a government briefing note says.

In other words, participants will be able to target specific rural areas, which likely will be a strategy that Rogers deploys. In March, Rogers announced it would acquire Shaw Communications Inc. for $26 billion. The deal has to go through government antitrust scrutiny before it gains approval, as it eliminates the fourth-largest competitor in the market. To spur a favourable outcome, Rogers promised to invest a combined $3.5 billion in Western rural connectivity. It will need licences in those sparsely populated areas to do so.

As part of its deal to buy Shaw, Rogers promised to invest a combined $3.5 billion in Western rural connectivity.
As part of its deal to buy Shaw, Rogers promised to invest a combined $3.5 billion in Western rural connectivity. Photo by Brent Lewin/Bloomberg files

Investors will also have their eyes on the larger regional players, especially Cogeco Inc. and Quebecor Inc., which owns Videotron Ltd., a dominant cable and internet provider in Quebec.

Cogeco and Videotron both own spectrum, but have held off on investing in infrastructure due to the expensive price tag, plus the high rates that incumbents demand to rent network access in areas outside Cogeco’s and Videotron’s territories. However, both secured a favourable ruling from the CRTC in April, when the regulator ordered the Big Three to drop their wholesale prices for companies that also promise to add to the national network. Cogeco and Videotron meet that criteria.

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Originally, 24 companies were set to compete for the available spectrum; however, Ontario-based TekSavvy Solutions Inc., the largest independent internet provider with 300,000 customers across Canada, dropped out of the auction after a separate CRTC ruling effectively raised wholesale prices for internet providers whose main business strategy is reselling access to the networks owned by Bell, Rogers, and Telus. A TekSavvy executive called the decision “a tombstone on the grave of telecom competition.”

Shaw, which owns Freedom Mobile, said it will not be participating in the auction, likely because of its pending sale to Rogers.

When will the CRTC announce the winners?

When the auction will end is anyone’s guess. The last auction went through 54 rounds of bidding and in 2008, there were 331 rounds, Bloomberg reported. With 3500 MHz critical to 5G rollout, this auction could be a frenzy and raise more than the $3.5 billion the government received in 2019. Once it concludes, the government will announce the winners and how much each spent within five business days.

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Boost vaccine supplies — not just appointments — for people in COVID-19 hot spots, Toronto tells Doug Ford government


As Torontonians scrambled online for tens of thousands of second-dose vaccine appointments Monday, officials warned they desperately need extra vaccine to protect those in COVID-19 hot spots from the spreading Delta variant.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s public health chief, told health board members that the vaccination rate for the city’s 36 “priority” neighbourhoods is 8.4 per cent below the citywide average.

That means residents in the lowest income, most racialized neighbourhoods — where COVID-19 has hit essential workers and those in crowded housing — are most vulnerable to the highly contagious Delta variant taking root in the GTA.

While pop-up and mobile clinics in those neighbourhoods helped boost first-dose rates, she noted, that doesn’t fully protect them from the Delta variant. Toronto needs to get them fully vaccinated, she said, but 60,000 local vaccine appointments that opened at 8 a.m. Monday were almost all booked by late morning.

“At this point I am concerned we may not have enough” vaccine for renewed campaigns into COVID-19 hot spots, de Villa told the health board, partly due to increased demand from newly eligible people who got AstraZeneca first doses.

“So yes, I believe we need more vaccine.”

Last Friday, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott seemed to have heeded calls from GTA-Hamilton mayors and regional chairs to boost vaccine supply and widen eligibility criteria for people in hot spots in areas including Toronto and Peel.

But while the province widened second-dose eligibility for people in municipalities with hot spots, it didn’t commit any vaccine to the areas above the per-capita allotment flowing to every other community.

Elliott said then: “We are asking the areas in those seven units that are the Delta concern areas to use what they have in their freezers first and then we will happily supply them with additional supplies so that they can continue to work on their first doses as well as their second doses.”

Her office said almost 100,000 appointments were snapped up provincewide Monday morning. Extra doses will flow to hot spots where “local inventory has been fully utilized.”

Puzzled Toronto officials said the city doesn’t stockpile vaccines. At the end of each week, when they learn how many doses they’ll get for the next week, they open a corresponding number of appointments in city-run clinics.

“There is no excess supply in Toronto,” Coun. Joe Cressy, the public health board chair, told the Star. “In fact, at our city-run clinics all appointments are nearly fully booked for the next three weeks.

“The first-dose rollout showed very clearly that to address inequities you need to allocate an increased supply to hot spots neighbourhoods.

“It’s what worked in the first-dose rollout and it’s what we need to do again now with the second-dose campaign.”

De Villa told health board members that COVID-19 indicators continue to rapidly improve for Toronto, thanks to vaccinations and months of lockdown that are now being eased by the Ontario government.

But the Delta variant, estimated to be at least 50 per cent more transmissible than the current dominant COVID-19 strain, will take over as the dominant strain by “early summer,” de Villa said, adding urgency to the vaccination campaign.

She said Toronto should have 20 per cent of adults fully vaccinated by the middle of this week and 25 per cent by next week. More than 73 per cent of Toronto adults have received their first doses.

Premier Doug Ford’s government has set benchmarks, including 70 per cent of Ontarians with a first vaccine dose and 20 per cent with a second dose by July 2, before the province can move to Stage 2 reopening, which includes personal services such as hair stylists.

The regional mayors and chairs, after meeting virtually Monday, said in a statement they believe vaccination progress “could allow the province, in consultation with public health officials, to consider opening personal service settings earlier than July 2.”

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The public health board also received a report from the Black Scientists Task Force on Vaccine Equity outlining key concerns among Black Torontonians and endorsed its recommendations on how to address the issues.

“The mistrust is pretty deep,” task force chair Akwatu Khenti, a University of Toronto assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said of Black Torontonians’ feelings toward governments and medical systems, based on comments at task force townhalls.

Task force recommendations include: calling on the Ontario government to immediately guarantee workers 10 days paid pandemic sick pay; the city to continue collecting race-based data but listen to Black Torontonians on how it can be used; and for the federal government to share vaccines with Caribbean and sub-Saharan African nations.

With files from Rob Ferguson

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider



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Alberta announces COVID-19 vaccine lottery, 1st prize aimed at 70% 1st-dose goalpost


Albertans who receive their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine before the province reaches the 70 per cent milestone for first-dose immunizations will be eligible to win $1 million.

In a Twitter video Saturday evening, Premier Jason Kenney announced the lottery as an incentive to reach the threshold, which is needed to transition in the third and final stage of the province’s reopening plan.

“We’re not getting enough demand right now,” Kenney said in the video.

Read more:
Albertans who received 1st COVID-19 vaccine in April or earlier can book 2nd dose

He was standing inside the Edmonton Expo Centre, one of the province’s drop-in immunization centres, on Saturday afternoon, and said no one was turning up for a shot.

“Alberta residents over the age of 18 who have received at least one dose of vaccine can register to be entered in the draw for the $1 million dollar prize,” the province said in a news release following Kenney’s tweet.

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While Kenney wasn’t clear in his video, the premier’s office later clarified that anyone over 18 would qualify. Any Albertan who received their first shot outside the province is also eligible, provided they’ve submitted proof of their vaccine to Alberta Health Services, and meet all other criteria.

The government said in order to qualify, people must be over the age of 18, reside in Alberta at the time of the draw, and be able to provide proof of having received their shot before the draw.

In the news release, Kenney said the lottery would help Alberta reach the 70 per cent benchmark, “so we can open, and stay open.”

“Albertans have already responded in such a big way to our vaccine program and we’ve been able to lift many health restrictions because of their efforts,” he said.

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“We just need one final push so we can lift them all and get back to normal. If you’ve been waiting to book, or you’ve been looking for a reason get the shot, here it is.”

Read more:
COVID-19: Nearly 20% of Albertans double-vaccinated as province reports 179 new infections

As of Saturday, 68.5 per cent of those eligible had received their first dose of vaccine, and 19.2 per cent of Albertans aged 12 and over were fully immunized with two doses.

The premier’s office said with 64,535 first-dose appointments booked in the next seven days, it’s expected the province will reach the 70 per cent mark on June 18, starting the two-week countdown to Stage 3.

In his video, Kenney said the draw for the first $1-million prize will be made on the day the province launches Stage 3 of the Open for Summer plan, “to celebrate getting life back to normal.”

The premier said more details will come in the days ahead on how to enter the lottery online, as well as the second and third $1-million draws to happen later in the summer.


Click to play video: 'Kenney says province looking at incentives for COVID-19 vaccines'







Kenney says province looking at incentives for COVID-19 vaccines


Kenney says province looking at incentives for COVID-19 vaccines

“You know that many places around the world have launched similar lotteries like this because we need to just nudge those who haven’t gotten around to getting their vaccines yet,” Kenney said in the video.

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“After all, we’ve had to spend billions of dollars in our health-care system and through supporting people through the past 16 tough months. So if we can just keep pushing up those numbers of people who are vaccinated, that will easily pay for itself in future savings by offering this Open for Summer lottery.

“So please do your part. Because now, a vaccine shot is also your shot at $1 million.”

The premier’s office said details on how to register for the first lottery prize will be announced on Monday, June 14.




© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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Coronavirus: Chinese researchers find batch of new coronaviruses in bats


Chinese researchers said Thursday they had found a batch of new coronaviruses in bats including one that may be the second-closest yet, genetically, to the COVID-19 virus.

According to the researchers, their discoveries in a single, small region of Yunnan province, southwestern China show just how many coronaviruses there are in bats and how many have the potential to spread to people.

Weifeng Shi of the University of Shandong and colleagues collected samples from small, forest-dwelling bats between May, 2019 and November, 2020. They tested urine and feces as well as taking swabs from the bats’ mouths.

“In total, we assembled 24 novel coronavirus genomes from different bat species, including four SARS-CoV-2 like coronaviruses,” the researchers wrote in a report published in the journal Cell.

One was very similar, genetically to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that’s causing the current pandemic, they said — a viral sample called RpYN06 taken from a horseshoe bat species called Rhinolophus pusillus.

It would be the closest strain to SARS-CoV-2 except for genetic differences on the spike protein, the knob-like structure that the virus uses when attaching to cells, they said.

“Together with the SARS-CoV-2 related virus collected from Thailand in June 2020, these results clearly demonstrate that viruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 continue to circulate in bat populations, and in some regions might occur at a relatively high frequency,” they wrote.

Researchers are trying to find where SARS-CoV-2 came from. Although a bat is a likely source, it’s possible the virus infected an intermediary animal. The SARS virus that caused an outbreak in 2002-2004 was tracked to an animal called a civet cat.

“Bats are well known reservoir hosts for a variety of viruses that cause severe diseases in humans and have been associated with the spillovers of Hendra virus, Marburg virus, Ebola virus and, most notably, coronaviruses. Aside from bats and humans, coronaviruses can infect a wide range of domestic and wild animals, including pigs, cattle, mice, cats, dogs, chickens, deer and hedgehogs,” they wrote.

Most of the samples came from species of horseshoe bats. In 2017, researchers sampling a cave in Yunnan found viruses very close genetically to the SARS virus in horseshoe bats.

Three of the samples described in Thursday’s report were also close to SARS genetically.

“Our study highlights the remarkable diversity of bat coronaviruses at the local scale, including close relatives of both SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV,” they wrote. The bat species they sampled are common across Southeast Asia, including southwest China, Vietnam, Laos and elsewhere.

Although there’s some controversy about the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, a World Health Organization report said the most likely source is an animal — probably a bat.

People hunt and eat bats, and bats can infect other animals that are also hunted and eaten by people. Viruses can infect people when they handle or slaughter the animals.



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Man in custody after 4 pedestrians killed by vehicle in hit and run in London, Ont.


A man remains in custody after three adults and one teenager died and a child was sent to hospital following a hit and run late Sunday in the northwest end of London, Ont., police say.

A 20-year-old male driver from London was arrested at Oxford Street West and Cherryhill Boulevard, near Cherryhill Mall.

He’s expected to make a court appearance Monday afternoon, Const. Sandasha Bough of the London Police Services told a media briefing outside the scene.

There’s no word on whether charges will be laid. 

Emergency crews were called to the scene at Hyde Park Road, just south of South Carriage Road, at about 8:40 p.m. ET Sunday.

A woman was pronounced dead at the scene. Another woman, a man and a teenager died in hospital. The child remains in hospital.  

Neighbours say speeding common

Londoner Paige Martin spoke to the media about the fatal collision involving five pedestrians on Hyde Park Road on June 6, 2021. 1:35

Paige Martin, a nearby resident who was driving at around 8:30 p.m. that night to get gas, was stopped at a red light facing southbound when she saw “a flash of black” speed by, shaking her vehicle as it passed. 

She proceeded to the gas station. On her way back home, looking in her rearview mirror, she saw cars backed up on Sarnia Road and emergency vehicles arriving. 

“It was just chaos, and there were people everywhere running, and citizens just trying to direct emergency vehicles where to go. There was pointing and screaming, and arms waving. It was just absolutely like something that you never want to see,” said Martin.

Kristin, another nearby resident who did not want her last name published for privacy reasons, was at home making dinner with her fiancé when the couple heard the crash. They ran out of the house to investigate, but she didn’t realize how severe the situation was until they saw cars begin to pull over. 

She said her fiancé saw a large black truck drive away from the scene. 

Bough couldn’t confirm if the man who was arrested was driving a truck.

“I didn’t see the truck, but my fiancé did,” said Kristin. “And he said it was one of the really big ones, like an extended back. Couldn’t tell if it was four-door or not. He slowed down for like five seconds, then went as fast as he could out of there. So it’s just terrible.” 

Kristin said that in the three months she has lived in the area, she tends to avoid riding her bike on the road because of speeding drivers. 

Hyde Park Road was closed between Sarnia and Gainsborough roads as police investigated. (Angela McInnes/CBC)

Hyde Park Road was closed between Sarnia and Gainsborough roads as police investigated. The intersection near where the crash happened has a Peavey Mart (formerly TSC Stores) on one corner. There’s a new set of lights at the intersection, and a new subdivision behind the Peavey Mart. 

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Trudeau says Ford trying to ‘deflect’ criticism of Ontario’s COVID-19 response by slamming Ottawa


Ontario Premier Doug Ford is trying to “deflect” criticism of his response to the COVID-19 pandemic by pointing fingers at the federal government’s handling of the country’s borders, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

Trudeau made the comments in response to questions about his relationship with Ford during a virtual appearance at a seminar held by Ryerson University.

Ford has repeatedly said Trudeau’s government hasn’t done enough to keep COVID-19 from coming into Canada via travel from abroad and that the third wave of the pandemic is largely due to “porous borders.”

The prime minister said Ford is in a tough political situation amid the pandemic and that deflecting blame is an easy out.

“I know that the pressure is mounting on Premier Ford, and it is always an easy thing to try and deflect and point fingers,” Trudeau told the seminar held by Ryerson’s Democracy Forum, which involved both students and faculty and was moderated by Toronto Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn.

“I’m not going to pick a fight with him at this point. I don’t think anyone wants to see people fighting during COVID,” Trudeau said.

“They want to see us focused on getting through it.”

WATCH: Ontario premier slammed PM on borders at May news conference:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he has now sent four letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking for enhanced COVID-19 measures at Canada’s borders without a formal response from the federal government. 1:40

Ford has demanded Ottawa reduce the number of people allowed to enter Ontario, including international students.

Trudeau noted that Ontario has been allowed to let in more than 30,000 international students over the past number of months at Ford’s request.

‘No action’ on border concerns, Ford’s office says

“Doug, if you want to suspend international students, just tell me. Send us an official note and we’ll do that. If you want us to suspend international travellers, if you want us to do any more, we will do that. Just tell me what you want to do,” Trudeau said.

But the premier’s office said the province’s requests are “well documented” in the multiple letters that were sent to the federal government, including another letter sent Friday. Ford has previously said four letters to the prime minister have all gone without a formal response.

“To date, there has been no action on any of these requests. It is the federal government’s jurisdiction and responsibility to fix this national problem. We will continue to call on them to close the loopholes at our land and air borders,” Ford’s press secretary, Alexandra Adamo, said Friday in an emailed statement.

Trudeau said Ford has not followed up on the request to suspend international students, a conversation he said he had with the premier some four weeks ago. 

Ontario looked for ‘distractions and diversions’: LeBlanc

The federal minister responsible for intergovernmental affairs also criticized Ford’s approach to the border, saying Ontario has “chosen to look for distractions and diversions and point the finger,” while the Liberal government has “tried to avoid the partisan push and pull of these conversations.”

“Some provinces in fact have pushed us to relax the border measures quickly and other provinces take out silly negative attack ads telling us we need to strengthen the border,” Dominic LeBlanc told host Chris Hall in an interview that aired Saturday on CBC’s The House.

LeBlanc said the federal government remained committed to working collaboratively with provinces to protect Canadians.

“The vast majority of provinces, most of the time, focus on that as well. So, there have been a lot more successes than there have been challenges”

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Habs even series with Leafs on Kotkaniemi’s OT winner in front of Montreal crowd


Canada’s first NHL crowd in nearly 15 months put on a show early Saturday as their team — as if fired out of a cannon — came in waves.

When the Maple Leafs finally pushed back and erased a two-goal deficit with under nine minutes to go in regulation and then dominated the Canadiens for much of overtime, the nervous, tension-filled 2,500 in attendance at the Bell Centre could barely muster applause as Carey Price, as he has so many times, kept his team breathing.

One mistake on the other side and a quick shot that took a deflection snapped the building back into a euphoria and ensured this Original Six playoff matchup will go the distance.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi buried the winner at 15:15 of OT as Montreal defeated Toronto 3-2 on Saturday to force a seventh and deciding game in the teams’ first-round series.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” said the 20-year-old Kotkaniemi. “Remarkable…. It’s a great feeling. Especially when the fans are in the stands.

“Gives you goosebumps.”

Corey Perry and Tyler Toffoli scored in regulation for Montreal, which got 41 saves from Price, including 13 in the extra period, as Toronto looked to close things out.

WATCH | Kotkaniemi propels Habs to OT victory over Leafs in Game 6:

Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s third goal of the playoffs gave Montreal a 3-2 overtime win over the Leafs. 2:42

The Canadiens blew a two-goal lead in the third for a second time in 48 hours, but again found a way to keep their season going on borrowed time.

“There’s no quit in this group,” said Montreal captain Shea Weber, who played more than 37 minutes. “We grinded. [Price] kept us in it, especially in overtime there when they were pushing and gave us a chance.

“That one shot made the difference.”

With his team struggling to generate anything in the extra period, Kotkaniemi ripped his third of the playoffs glove side on Leafs goalie Jack Campbell — the shot glanced off defenceman Zach Bogosian — after Toronto blueliner Travis Dermott turned the puck over.

“That’s just hockey,” Toffoli said of his team being outshot 13-2 in OT. “You just have to find a way. One shot wins it.

“We just found a way.”

Jason Spezza and T.J. Brodie had the goals for Toronto, while Campbell stopped 28 shots for the suddenly wobbly Leafs.

“We just didn’t come ready to play,” winger Mitch Marner said. “We really do have to start on time because it’s getting said a lot, and it’s not good enough.”

WATCH | Montreal, Toronto fans come together to sing national anthem:

Montreal and Toronto fans came together and sang the national anthem to celebrate their return to the Bell Centre. 1:19

The Canadiens, who won Game 5 in overtime at Scotiabank Arena and are looking to come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win for the third time in franchise history, now head to Toronto for Monday’s finale with wind firmly in their sails.

The Leafs, meanwhile, desperately need to get back on track or face the prospect of another disastrous playoff exit for a team and fan base that’s suffered without a Stanley Cup, or much to get excited about, for the last 54 years.

“Montreal, in [Games 5 and 6], had a real hard push at the start and we can’t get through that,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “The crowd and the push at the start was significant for them.

“We’ve got to be a whole lot better.”

Tyler Toffoli, right, celebrates after putting Montreal up 2-0 in the third period. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Saturday’s tilt between combatants with a long history, although not much of it recent, was played in front of those boisterous 2,500 fans inside the 21,302-seat venue after the Quebec government relaxed some restrictions and the province’s curfew ended Friday.

“We could hear them before the game, and going out for warmups, had chills,” Weber said. “Honestly, it was unbelievable. It felt like a lot more than 2,500 people. It was amazing. I can’t imagine what 20,000 people would be like.

“That was electric.”

The winner of Toronto-Montreal will take on Winnipeg after the Jets registered a surprising sweep of Connor McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers in the Canadian-based North Division’s other first-round series.

Badly outplayed through 40 minutes, but still tied 0-0, the top-seeded Leafs got a power play early in the third period, but Price denied NHL regular-season goal leader Auston Matthews on the doorstep.

Toronto’s Jason Speeza celebrates a goal. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

The Canadiens then got their second man advantage of the night when William Nylander went off for goalie interference, and Perry scored his first at 5:26 on a scramble in front as the Bell Centre exploded in celebration.

Keefe had his challenge for goalie interference denied, which put Toronto back down a man. Marner then fired a clearing attempt over the glass to gift the home side a 5-on-3 power play for 1:41.

And the Canadiens made the Leafs pay when Toffoli squeezed his first past Campbell at 6:43 to stretch the lead to 2-0 as Montreal fans — masked and socially distanced — again rejoiced throughout the cavernous building.

WATCH | How the Leafs-Habs playoff rivalry came to be:

It’s official, the Leafs and Habs will meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1979. Rob Pizzo goes back over 100 years into the archives to examine hockey’s oldest rivalry. 4:28

Down to five defencemen after Jake Muzzin left with an apparent groin injury in the second, Spezza breathed life into Toronto at 11:35 when his shot went in off the stick of Montreal defenceman Jeff Petry before Matthews hit the post a couple minutes later.

The Leafs continued to push, and Brodie fired his first goal of 2021 off Petry’s skate and past Price with 3:11 left in regulation before being mobbed by teammates inside a stunned Bell Centre.

Toronto then carried the play much of OT, but Price was there at every turn to set up the late drama.

“It was special, really special,” Kotkaniemi said. “Just seeing people out there, I think we finally have a feeling we’re moving in the right direction.”

Without a playoff series victory in 17 years, but 11-1 all-time when leading a series 3-1, the Leafs were still minus captain John Tavares (concussion, knee), but Nick Foligno (lower-body injury) returned to the lineup after missing three games, while Canadiens counterpart Jake Evans was back in after getting hurt in the opener. Montreal also inserted defenceman Brett Kulak for the injured Jon Merrill.

WATCH | Habs’ Suzuki claims overtime winner against Leafs in Game 5:

Montreal edges Toronto 4-3 with Nick Suzuki’s overtime goal in Game 5, trails series 3-2. 2:00

Spurred on by the first Canadian hockey crowd since March 11, 2020 — fans belted out O Canada to a national television audience — Montreal came out on firing and led 8-0 in shots during an early barrage that included a Toronto power play.

Campbell, who was jeered by the crowd early and often, made big stops on Toffoli, Weber, Nick Suzuki and Eric Staal, with the Leafs firmly on their heels.

The scenes outside the Bell Centre before puck drop resembled some level of normality as fans enjoyed beers in the sunshine.

The Canadiens gave Game 6 seat priority to season-ticket holders, luxury-suite holders and corporate partners to purchase tickets in pods of two or four.

Buyers were allowed to resell tickets, and more than a few took advantage. Prices were exorbitant for the average fan on the secondary market, with the cheapest pair available a couple of hours before puck drop still priced around $1,800 on Ticketmaster.

But for Canadiens fans in attendance — and with the money available — it was worth every dollar.

“It was great having the fans back,” Toffoli said. “They’ve been through a lot. We’ve all been through a lot. For everybody who got the opportunity to come tonight, we’re very grateful.

“They definitely helped us get that win.”

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As loan-loss provisions decline, question for banks becomes what to do with excess capital?


Some banks have other plans for those funds, in addition to paying shareholders after a year of not being able to raise dividends, such as potentially making acquisitions

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Five of Canada’s Big Six banks reported expectation-beating quarters this week as they look toward a rebound in the country’s pandemic-ravaged economy.

The earnings beats were fuelled in large part by plummeting provisions for credit losses, which are funds that banks must reserve to cover potential losses from loan defaults. Now analysts are looking at how banks will deploy their extra cash reserves and when sluggish loan growth will rebound.

The lenders set aside billions of dollars last spring as a buffer against potential sour loans amid sweeping business closures and job losses. But with government subsidies for businesses and workers and bank loan deferral programs that helped prevent defaults, loans did not sour to the extent that lenders and analysts had expected.

As the vaccine rollout ramps up across North America and the economy south of the border re-opens, the banks slashed their provisions, or in some cases released funds from the reserves.

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Bank of Montreal’s provisions fell to $60 million in the second quarter, as compared with $1.1 billion in the same period a year earlier and far less than analyst expectations of $219 million. CIBC and National Bank also set aside fewer provisions than expected, recording $32 million and $5 million in provisions respectively.

Toronto-Dominion Bank booked the largest reversal in provisions, releasing $377 million that was previously set aside for loan losses. RBC also recovered some of the funds it had previously aside, releasing $96 million, as compared with the $2.8 billion it reported in the same period a year earlier. Analysts expected TD and RBC to set aside $457.8 million and $275.6 million respectively.

The trend signals that the banks are starting to “put the pandemic behind them,” according to Scotiabank analyst Meny Grauman.

“The economy came through this pandemic on a better footing, so credit losses turned out to be a fraction of what we were worried about last year,” Grauman said in an interview. “Even though the pandemic is not over in Canada —we’re behind the U.S. and we’re still under lockdowns here in Canada — we still have good sightline to be able to take those reserves off.”

The pandemic also brought opportunities to certain divisions. Mortgages surged as homebuyers eager to lock in low rates flooded Canada’s heated housing market. Balances at RBC jumped 12.6 per cent year-over-year and 10 per cent at BMO.

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Capital markets also boosted earnings due to a frenzy of corporate mergers and trading activity as businesses jumped on high stock valuations and excess liquidity. RBC led the pack, posting $1.07 billion in its capital markets division, with $563 million at BMO, $495 million at CIBC and $383 million at TD.

But a sluggish recovery in loan demand weighed on earnings. While mortgages boosted personal loans, commercial loans largely remained flat. And credit card spending, while increasing slightly, has been slow to rebound.

Analysts questioned whether excess deposits as consumers and businesses tucked away extra cash would cause a lag in demand for loans, especially with commercial clients.

RBC’s chief financial officer Rod Bolger said that while people may first spend their extra cash rather than take on debt, that should change as the economy reopens and spending on big items resumes.

Meanwhile, the trend toward savings benefitted some segments, with an uptick in clients investing with its wealth management division and companies looking to meet their merger and acquisition goals in its capital markets division.

“From a commercial standpoint, we don’t believe that that is a long-term impact on loan growth, that it should work its way through over the next couple of quarters,” Bolger said in an interview.

“Clients have more funds to invest in the market, and that has certainly benefited our wealth management businesses both in the U.S. and Canada, and it has also benefitted out capital markets business as we see our M&A pipeline is quite robust right now.

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But the banks are also riding on high capital levels, and are expected to continue to release further loan-loss provisions as the economy re-opens. Analysts are watching for how the lenders will allocate that cash.

At the outset of the pandemic, Canada’s banking regulator temporarily restricted banks from raising dividends and buying back shares. The lenders reported increases in their common equity Tier 1 (CET1) ratios, with TD’s jumping to 14.2 per cent and RBC’s climbing to 12.8 per cent.

Across the board, bank executives said that they plan to send some of those funds to investors once the limitation is lifted. Some banks also have other plans for those funds, in addition to paying shareholders after a year of not being able to raise dividends.

“They’ll all put through some pretty health dividend increases, but there are some differences in preferences or thoughts between capital allocation toward organic growth, M&A and buybacks,” CIBC analyst Paul Holden said in an interview, adding that “TD has been the most vocal” about using its capital to potentially make acquisitions to grow its business.

TD chief executive officer Bharat Masrani said that the bank would certainly consider returning capital to shareholders, but that Canada’s second-largest bank has enough capital to look at acquisitions as well.

“We will not be shy to do a bank deal,” Masrani said in a conference call with analysts. “Should a compelling opportunity present itself, we do have that flexibility to look at it very seriously.”

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