What is the ‘Kraken’ and what does it have to do with Trump’s election challenge

Calls to “Release the Kraken,” once reserved for tales of Scandinavian folklore and rum commercials, have become the latest rallying cry for pro-Trump groups spreading unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud in the U.S. election.

Pro-Trump groups, including QAnon conspiracy theorists, have been sharing the hashtag #ReleaseTheKraken in the weeks following President-elect Joe Biden’s declared victory in an effort to support the legal campaign to challenge the election results.

But how did the Kraken – a gigantic sea monster from Scandinavian folklore that rises up from the ocean to devour its enemies and the name of a popular rum brand – become the symbol of this campaign?

The hashtag appears to stem from comments made by Sidney Powell, a lawyer for former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn.

During an interview with Fox Business Network on Nov. 13, Powell claimed the president’s team had substantial evidence to prove widespread voter fraud in several key states.

“We are talking about hundreds of thousands of votes. President Trump won this election in a landslide,” she said during the interview.

Powell claimed that she had seen a growing body of evidence and testimony from voters to prove that Dominion voting machines altered ballots in key swing states, claiming the machines were developed to rig elections in countries such as Venezuela, Cuba, and China.

When asked if she believed her claims of voter fraud were the “culmination of an four-year effort to overthrow Trump’s presidency,” she alleged that voter fraud had been organized and conducted with the help of tech companies, social media companies, and the media.

“I’m going to release the Kraken,” she stated.

The hashtag has continued to gain traction on Twitter as pro-Trump supporters spread news of efforts to legally challenge the election results. Though, on Saturday, some of the tweets appeared to poke fun at the effort as users shared images of The Kraken rum bottles, and images of octopuses, which are commonly used to depict the fictional creature.

No evidence has emerged of the widespread voting fraud that Trump and his legal team have repeatedly alleged, which has been slapped down by judges and state election officials.​

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The fight by First Nations to save an Arctic refuge from drilling is running out of time

The Gwich’in are once again facing down a threat to their way of life, as outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump makes a late-game effort to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration before he leaves office.

The refuge, known as ANWR, is just inside Alaska’s border with Yukon. It is a vast, pristine area of wilderness. The Porcupine caribou herd migrates there each spring from The Northwest Territories, Yukon and other parts of Alaska to calve on its coastal plain over the summer.

But the refuge also sits on top of an estimated 10 billion barrels of oil. Indigenous and conservation groups argue that opening the area to energy exploration would have a significant, negative impact on the herd.

Dana Tizya-Tramm, the chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Yukon, said the survival of the Porcupine caribou is linked to the survival of his nation, its culture and identity.

“Our people have been intrinsically tied to this herd for millennia, our village being aligned with the traditional migratory routes,” Tizya-Tramm said in an interview airing Saturday on a special co-production between The House and CBC North.

“To this day, our children are born and are fed caribou broth [and] teethe on the bones, as our elders are fed choice parts from the caribou. So in every way, shape and form, even our government and our way of life is informed by the Porcupine caribou herd.”

Trump isn’t the first U.S. president to covet the jobs and tax revenue that would come from opening up the refuge to drilling. What he and proponents of the work fail to acknowledge, said Tizya-Tramm, is the staggering potential cost to the Gwich’in on both sides of the border.

CBC News: The House11:28Is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at risk?

As outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump takes steps toward oil and gas development in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, what does that mean for Gwich’in in Canada and the United States seeking to protect their vital Porcupine caribou herd? Dana Tizya-Tramm, Chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Yukon explains. 11:28

‘A last-ditch effort’

“It’s all about development for development’s sake. So at this time, we do find ourselves in a last-ditch effort, as David versus Goliath, to ensure the protection of these lands, the protection of our nation moving forward,” he said.

“But unfortunately, that doesn’t translate into Trump’s lexicon and it does not find its way into legislation.”

The Gwich’in and conservation groups are leading a campaign to convince banks and insurance companies to refuse to take part in any energy projects in the refuge. So far, a number of Canadian and international banks have indicated they will not underwrite exploration in the area.

In this undated file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, caribou from the Porcupine caribou herd migrate onto the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP)

Meanwhile, media reports suggest interest in bidding for drilling rights in the refuge might be modest, as oil prices drop and governments around the globe look for ways to reduce emissions.

Opponents of drilling in the refuge hope that president-elect Joe Biden will follow through on his campaign commitment to permanently protect ANWR and other public lands from energy exploration.

“I feel now more than ever this opportunity is on the horizon for us to engage with this administration to levy the highest level of protections that can be designated from the U.S. government on these lands,” Tizya-Tramm said.

The wild card in all of this, as always, is Trump.

His efforts to put in place lease agreements before his term expires on Jan. 20 underscore the difficulties involved in balancing the demands of those who want to exploit the oil and gas reserves with the interests of those intent on preserving the refuge, and of the people who depend on the animals there for survival.

Opponents of drilling in an Arctic wildlife rescue are racing the clock as outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump pushes to open the region to oil and gas exploration. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Seismic testing to scope out oil reserves in the ANWR might happen before the year is out. So the clock is ticking.

“We still may see seismic activity in this area, which in and of itself will lead to irreparable damage done to the tundra permafrost and the sensitive caribou calving grounds,” Tizya-Tramm said.

Without the herd to sustain the Gwich’in, the chief warned, it could fall to the federal government to keep his community afloat.

Canada and the U.S. are supposed to be united in their efforts to protect the herd; the two countries struck a legally-binding agreement in 1987 to conserve the Porcupine caribou population and its habitat.

“Unfortunately, there are no provisions in this agreement for dispute resolution,” Tizya-Tramm said.

Canada ‘actively working’ to protect refuge

In a statement to CBC News, Global Affairs Canada said the government was “actively working” to respond to the Trump administration’s move to sell oil leases in the refuge.

“We continue to work closely with the governments of the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and affected Indigenous peoples to bring forward to the U.S. government our shared concerns,” the department wrote.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson also told CBC that he is working to convince the U.S. to protect the ANWR from exploration.

“I will be doing everything that I possibly can to advocate both to the existing Trump administration and the incoming Biden administration that this should not happen and this not the appropriate way to think about development in this day and age,” he said.

Tizya-Tramm said he also plans to get in touch with Biden’s camp in the coming weeks. He said he applauds the Liberal government’s efforts on the issue so far, and its recognition of the intimate connection between the Gwich’in and the Porcupine herd.

“As a young man, to have access to the upper echelons of the federal government, it goes a long way for me, bringing back successes to our people,” he said.

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Northern First Nation sees new public housing as a way to ‘take back sovereignty’

The snow falls lightly in Dettah, N.W.T., covering the steps leading up to Henry Beaulieu’s two-bedroom unit, where he’s lived with his wife for the past 22 years.

Once, their six children lived there as well. But they grew up and moved away, as children do.

Beaulieu said he feels strongly that if his First Nation — the Yellowknives Dene — had developed the vast area around Dettah to build homes for its members, his kids and his grandchildren would still be there.

“If I had my own home, none of my children would be leaving … if they had houses built,” he told CBC Radio’s The House.

Beaulieu and his wife live in a public housing unit, owned and maintained by the housing division of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN).

Henry Beaulieu and CBC’s Juanita Taylor sit in the living room of his public housing unit. Beaulieu has been living in the house for 22 years. (Joanne Stassen/CBC )

The YKDFN is now working with Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada and the territorial Housing Corporation to see if it can access some of the $60 million put aside for the territory under the National Housing Co-investment Fund to build its own affordable housing as an unsettled First Nation.

Chief Ernest Betsina said the First Nation has a vision for a better community in Dettah and its sister community of N’dilo.

CBC News: The House10:57A First Nation’s housing shortage plan

Co-host Juanita Taylor speaks to N’Dilo Chief Ernest Betsina of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and CEO Jason Snaggs about efforts to improve their community’s housing shortage. 10:57

“We want to be strong, for our people to be born, to be raised and basically live their whole life with the YKDFN and to contribute to the First Nation, to our dreams,” he said.

“I want to see my people … be independent.”

Betsina said a lack of adequate, affordable housing is standing in the way of that.

The fund is meant to help Indigenous communities in the N.W.T. — but because it’s not based on a reserve, the YKDFN fears it might not meet the criteria.

Jason Snaggs is the CEO of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. (Danielle d’Entremont/ CBC)

Jason Snaggs, CEO of YKDFN, said that if the federal government sincerely wants to improve its nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations, prioritizing Indigenous-led housing initiatives would be a good way to do that.

“For the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, it’s a form of taking back its sovereignty and its independence when it comes to housing,” he said. “Successive governments have tried to more or less exert their control over the First Nation by saying, ‘We are going to provide housing for you.'”

Snaggs said the houses provided by the federal government were built to southern standards, making them inefficient and costly to maintain.

“Our goal is to build houses that reflect the tradition and culture of the First Nation,” he said.

Beaulieu’s home is plagued by flaws. The floor tiles are cracking because poor construction causes the house to shift, he said.

Henry Beaulieu uses an axe to chip away ice around the door frame of his house. (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

“It’s not very good. It’s pretty drafty. There’s a gap, eh? That’s where the wind comes in and I have to scrape the ice off the edge of the door all the way down and the latch,” he said, adding he’s had to use an axe to chip the ice away.

Despite the need for repairs, Beaulieu said he would really like to call the house his own.

Dettah, N.W.T., resident Henry Beaulieu points to the chips in his flooring caused by the house shifting. The public housing unit has been facing challenges in the maintenance of its homes over the years. ( Juanita Taylor/CBC)

“I’m a band member owning this land. Under our treaty we’re entitled to free housing — and here we’re paying rent,” he said.

“I’d like to have this place rent-to-own, under our Treaty that was signed on July 25, 1900 in Fort Resolution, N.W.T. We’re entitled to free housing. Transfer ownership to me because they’re not fulfilling their treaty obligation.”

Betsina and Snaggs said their housing strategy would address concerns they’ve been hearing from members of the First Nation. 

“They wanted to have sweat equity built into their homes,” says Snaggs. “They wanted to be able to lease their homes to own it, build their own homes if they have the ability, and we provide to them the materials, we provide to them the design. We work and ensure at the end of the day that we could generate that type of program within the community by YKDFN.”

A view of N’dilo from a rocky hill, with Yellowknife in the background. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Beaulieu said he thinks First Nations and other orders of government should pursue a territory-wide solution. 

“Think big, don’t think small,” he said.

In the meantime, Beaulieu said, he’ll keep chipping the ice away from his door frame.

“The only thing I could do now is just read my Bible and ask the good Lord to bless my house, to bless my wife and bless everything that’s here, what God has given us. Be content with it and be happy,” he said.

“And hopefully the YKDFN and its housing division, and [the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation] and [the] federal government and lands department can work together.”

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Murray Sinclair to retire from Senate

Sen. Murray Sinclair is retiring from the Senate to work on mentoring young lawyers in Indigenous law and to write his memoirs. 

“Since working on the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission], we have seen a shift in how our country understands and speaks of residential schools and Indigenous issues in Canada,” Sinclair said in a media statement.

“I leave the Senate feeling happy with how things are progressing and knowing that reconciliation will take a long time. I will continue to work on this for the rest of my life.”

Sinclair, who will officially leave the Red Chamber on Jan. 31, 2021, was the first Indigenous judge to serve on the bench in Manitoba and only the second Indigenous judge appointed in Canada.

He worked in the justice system in that province for more than 25 years, serving as the co-chair of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry in Manitoba and as chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Appointed to the Senate on April 2, 2016, he has worked to protect Indigenous languages and child welfare and establish a national day for truth and reconciliation.

“My tenure as senator has been a remarkable opportunity to serve the people of Manitoba, which I have striven to do with pride and humility for the last five years,” Sinclair wrote in a letter to Gov. Gen. Julie Payette last week.

Sinclair was an adjunct professor of law at the University of Manitoba and has won the National Aboriginal Achievement Award, along with the Manitoba Bar Association’s Equality Award and its Distinguished Service Award.

Listen: Sen. Murray Sinclair announces new book:

The Next Chapter18:54Senator Murray Sinclair announces new book

Senator Murray Sinclair, Manitoba’s first Aboriginal judge and second appointed in all of Canada, is writing his memoirs about his remarkable life and career. 18:54

Speaking to CBC Radio earlier this month, Sinclair said he was inspired by his granddaughter to write his memoirs.

“The year before my granddaughter was born, I had suffered a minor stroke,” he said. 

“It took about a year to get back to normal. When she was born, I was visiting with her and with her parents and I remember thinking that I may not be around when she grows up. My granddaughter may have questions that only I can answer. She doesn’t know my family — my grandmother, my grandfather, my father — or where we came from. I decided I was going to start writing things down for her.”

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‘A step forward’: Federal, provincial governments to investigate grocery store fees on suppliers

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“I’m delighted. I think it’s a step forward,” said Michael Graydon, chief executive of Food, Health and Consumer Products of Canada, the major trade association for manufacturers, which has been among the loudest critics of supermarket fees and fines.

This summer, Walmart Canada reignited debate over a code of conduct when it started charging its suppliers, as a way to help cover multi-billion-dollar upgrades to its stores and e-commerce operations. Canada’s biggest grocer, Loblaw Cos. Ltd., followed suit last month with a fee to help cover its own upgrades, and a buying group that includes Metro Inc. has asked for similar treatment.

One of the country’s biggest dairy processors is pushing back against the supermarkets. Lactalis Canada Inc., which includes the Beatrice milk, Astro yogurt and Black Diamond cheese brands, told retailers last week that it will no longer pay fines if shipments come up short in the next month, pointing to production challenges caused by the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

‘Ideal’ that the working group will be led by a federal and a provincial minister

Michael Graydon, Food, Health and Consumer Products of Canada

“What is happening today isn’t conducive to having a strong ag sector,” André Lamontagne, Quebec’s Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, said in an interview. He will co-chair the working group with Bibeau.

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Jagmeet Singh joins U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to broadcast ‘Among Us’ match via Twitch on Friday

What are the kids up to in a pandemic?

For many it’s playing “Among Us,” a new online game that’s even making its rounds in the political realm.

On Friday at 7 p.m. ET, Canadian NDP leader Jagmeet Singh will challenge U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the popular Gen Z game on Singh’s Twitch channel.

“Among Us” is an online multi-player version of the party game “Mafia.” In teams of 10 or less, the objective is to fix a ship while sniffing out impostors whose mission is to kill members of the crew. Once a member is found dead, or there is suspicion, players will work to convince one another to vote a member out or skip their turn.

Ocasio-Cortez, also known by the nickname “AOC,” livestreamed her debut on the game last month in an effort to lure younger voters to the polls for the Nov. 3 election, attracting a staggering 439,000 viewers.

The Oct. 20 livestream, which included fellow progressive congresswoman Ilhan Omar, was one of the most-viewed events in the nine-year history of Twitch.

Singh and Ocasio-Cortez will also be joined by popular gaming streamers HasanAbi and Northernlion.

With files from The Canadian Press

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Canadian Food Inspection Agency warns against consuming meat bottled by P.E.I. man

CHARLOTTETOWN – The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has issued a warning against consuming beef and chicken that was bottled by a Prince Edward Island man and sold through classified ads in provincial newspapers.

The agency says the meat products made by Robert Waite of Tignish, P.E.I., carry a risk of botulism.

It says the meats sold in 500-millilitre jars with no labels, up to and including Nov. 26, should not be consumed.

The warning is the result of agency testing that suggests the meats may permit the growth of the bacteria responsible for botulism.

In its notice, the agency says the contaminated food may not look or smell spoiled but it can still lead to sickness

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There have been no illnesses reported to date connected to the meat.

(The Canadian Press)

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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Desperation during the polio epidemic brought troubling treatments

You’ve probably heard about David Onley.

He is remarkable for lots of reasons. He was Canada’s first news reporter with a visible disability. He’s been a dogged advocate for accessibility, and of course he was Ontario’s representative to the Queen as the 28th lieutenant-governor.

You probably haven’t heard about the time a man held a knife to his throat and threatened to kill him.

When Onley was three-years-old he contracted polio, a virus that left thousands of Canadian children dead or with permanent disabilities. In Onley’s case, it affected both of his arms and his legs.

He spent seven months at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. His parents could only visit once a week, and could only see him through a window. That separation had a lasting effect, perhaps as poignant as the virus itself.

“That was worse than not seeing them at all because after a while you just sort of forget about them,” Onley said from his Toronto home. “It creates major separation anxiety.”

When Onley returned home, a new anxiety set in – one that came from the doctor who was in charge of his physiotherapy.

“When he would arrive, it was like the scene out of the Exorcist,” Onley recalled. “The man with the black bag on the poster and the silhouette. I was initially terrified.”

As it turns out, it wasn’t the black bag and imposing silhouette that Onley needed to worry about. It was the doctor’s technique.

Onley was chosen for a controversial therapy, called “The Kenny Method.” It was named after Elizabeth Kenny, who was an Australian self-taught nurse credited by some as one of the pioneers of modern physiotherapy.

Her method was specifically meant for polio survivors and involved applying strips of hot, wet cloths to damaged limbs and then “exercising” them, which meant physically stretching them the way they should normally move. The premise was that it would prevent deformities and build up muscles.

It was painful. It was also effective.

Onley doesn’t recall the physician’s full name, but he certainly can see him when he closes his eyes. He was a local practitioner from Onley’s hometown of Midland, Ont. and made the trip to Scarborough to administer the Kenny Method in the kitchen of Onley’s grandparents’ home.

On the first day, the physician began the exercises, which were extremely painful. The doctor stopped and asked Onley’s parents and grandparents to leave the house.

“He didn’t want them to see him when he pulled out his knife and put it to my throat and said, ‘You move this leg or I’m going to slit your throat right now and let you bleed to death. Now move the leg,’” recalls Onley.

Onley was terrified. But the threat was effective.

“You know what? I moved the leg and I moved the arm and I moved whatever he wanted me to because I believed him,” he said.

He never spoke a word of the violent threat to anybody at the time. The treatment lasted seven days a week for months. At the end of it, Onley could ride a tricycle, walk and even run a bit.

That sort of physiotherapy wouldn’t fly today, of course. It would be headline news and result in the doctor getting his licence pulled. However, the “ultimate tough love,” as Onley describes it, worked. His parents saw substantial improvement over the months of the unorthodox treatment.

Onley is not traumatized by the memory. In fact, he speaks affectionately of his time with the doctor, who he felt genuinely cared about his rehabilitation. He can even laugh about it.

“I’ve never had difficulty following orders from that time on,” he said.

Years later, as an adult, Onley met the doctor again.

“He could see that I had definitely recovered and I knew it meant a great deal to him. We had some great conversations. He’s a great man,” says Onley.

Two years after Onley contracted the virus, Dr. Jonas Salk developed a polio vaccine, saving countless children from the debilitating effects of the epidemic’s worst cases. The vaccine took decades to fully take control of the disease and Canada didn’t declare itself polio-free until 1994.

That’s been the same case for most of the world, where the virus has almost completely been eradicated. However, that’s beginning to change.

COVID-19 has disrupted immunization programs around the globe and now new polio cases have begun to show up in places where the virus was once held at bay by the vaccine.

Eighty million babies have now missed critical vaccines, prompting the World Health Organization to sound the alarm and ask countries to re-instate their vaccination campaigns.

If you’re wondering if your child can still be vaccinated during the COVID-19 pandemic, contact your family health provider.

Onley, now 70, can’t say enough about the importance of vaccinations.

“Had the polio vaccine existed in the Tuesday before Labour Day 1953, I would have got it and my life would be completely different,” he said.

Although he went on to have a long and successful career, Onley wants people to know that just like with COVID-19, polio has long-term effects.

For him, lifelong effects include post-polio fatigue and, of course, mobility challenges. He says when a vaccine for COVID-19 comes along, no one will need to threaten him with a knife to get one.

“As soon as the COVID vaccine comes out I will get my shot.”

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What we expect from regional and city governments is increasingly out of step with their powers

This column is an opinion by Tomas Hachard, manager of programs and research at the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Canadian city governments have been on the front lines delivering essential services while struggling with limited fiscal resources. The pressures of the pandemic have made it clear that there are cracks in Canada’s federal structure, particularly in relation to cities.

Even though city governments are growing in importance and responsibility, they remain “little siblings” in Canadian federalism, often ignored by Ottawa or overruled by the provinces.

This imbalance has repercussions for all Canadians. Canada is one of the most decentralized countries on the planet, and little can be accomplished without ensuring all governments are equipped to make the decisions and sustain the investments Canada requires for its future success.

As I note in research for the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance, cities face four particular challenges because of the imbalance in intergovernmental relations.

The first is paternalism. Cities have a semblance of authority in several policy areas, but often little actual power to make changes.

For example, depending on where you live in Canada, changes to speed limits may require provincial approval, local public health decision-making is second-guessed, and municipal planning decisions can be appealed to provincially regulated oversight bodies, as can policing budget decisions.

The second challenge is constrained finances. Cities have inadequate sources of revenue and insufficient fiscal flexibility to meet their responsibilities.

One consequence of this are city plans or actions that, without provincial and federal funding, simply can’t proceed. The biggest effect is on infrastructure, and particularly transit, where many cities can’t afford their repair bills, let alone the cost of new construction or needed expansion.

The third challenge is poor coordination. Unclear and overlapping jurisdiction between orders of government leads to inefficient programs and disputes over responsibility.

In Ontario, this challenge has recently been epitomized by debates over what power cities have to enact public health restrictions on their own.

The pandemic has required closer co-operation between federal officials such as Health Minister Patty Hajdu, right, premiers such as Ontario’s Doug Ford, left, and municipal officials. (Chris Young, Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The final challenge is fragmentation. Many of the most visionary ideas for the future of cities are best implemented at a metropolitan scale. Housing and transit challenges, for example, cross municipal borders and affect entire metropolitan regions. Yet in most of Canada, metropolitan regions are made up of several municipalities, and inadequate governance structures exist to allow for effective coordination.

How can these challenges be addressed?

First, a clarification of the powers and responsibilities of modern cities is needed. Canada currently suffers from conflicted and contradictory answers to the questions of what municipal governments ought to be and what they ought to do.

If city governments are increasingly significant public policymakers, they need to have the resources, autonomy, and institutions appropriate to deliver on that role. A principles-based review of provincial-municipal relations to clarify who does what and how we pay for it would help ensure that city governments are able to meet the expectations we have for them.

Of course, Canadian provinces and territories are also strained by the current balance of intergovernmental relations. Any review of provincial-municipal responsibilities would need to take into account the federal-provincial/territorial context.

Second, relations between the federal, provincial/territorial and municipal governments n Canada need to be deepened.

Many of Canada’s greatest policy challenges require increased coordination and cooperation among all three orders of government. However, there exists no mechanism for ongoing, formal federal-provincial-municipal relations.

Cities, provinces, and the federal government need formal avenues for collaborative governance. Established committees that include mayors and city managers, and their counterparts at the provincial and federal levels, would create avenues for ongoing cooperation. It is not feasible for every Canadian municipality to be at the intergovernmental table, but that gap could be filled by metropolitan institutions that represent city-regions, or by municipal associations in each province.

There have been debates about how much power municipal, provincial and federal levels of government have when deciding on measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and enforcing them. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

At the same time, governments should pursue trilateral agreements to address policy challenges that require coordinated action and multi-level funding. Such agreements could be modelled on the urban development agreements in Vancouver and Winnipeg, which brought together government and community partners, and led to funding for economic development and neighbourhood revitalization.

Fundamentally, in a policy area like mental health — which involves every order of government, because it intersects with housing, the opioid crisis, health care, and policing — trilateral agreements could coordinate existing work being done by individual governments, and direct resources to where they are most needed.

Making all this happen is no easy feat, and it requires give-and-take from every level of government, but it’s essential if we truly want to fix the obvious cracks in Canadian federalism.

In combination, these measures would not only put cities on a firmer footing, they would also ensure more effective funding, coordination, and delivery of public services across all orders of government. Canada will be better able to “build back better” from COVID-19, address climate change, reform social policy, and improve health care if the governments best able to deliver on specific aspects of these efforts can afford to take them on.

With better coordination and cooperation between all three orders of government, Canada will be better equipped to handle the challenges ahead.

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Nav Canada warns air traffic controllers that job cuts are coming as pandemic crushes revenue

Air traffic controllers are being warned that layoffs are coming as Nav Canada pursues a “full restructuring” in response to a revenue slump caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, CBC News has learned.

CBC News has obtained a confidential memo sent internally to air traffic controllers on Thursday. In it, Ben Girard, Nav Canada’s vice-president and chief of operations, told staff that the company has seen a $518 million drop in revenue compared to its budget.

He said he’s been pushing the federal government for help, but — unlike some other countries — Canada has not released an industry-specific bailout package yet.

“We anticipate that until air traffic returns to higher levels, which will not occur until the end of this fiscal year, we will continue to operate in a daily cash negative position and this will be made worse as funding from the [Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy] program is ratcheted back,” Girard wrote. 

Girard did not say in the memo how many air traffic controllers will lose their jobs or which locations will be affected. The memo said it’s looking to reduce the number of “IFR controllers.” These controllers are higher on the pay scale and work at area control centres in Gander, N.L., Moncton, N.B., Montreal, Winnipeg, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver.

The workers are responsible for controlling large amounts of airspace between airports using radar. Their job is to make sure planes keep proper distance from one another.

“I know this is very difficult news to hear. It is also very difficult news to deliver,” Girard wrote. “This is a decision that has been made at my level based on what needs to be done to ensure Nav Canada’s financial sustainability.”

Nav Canada manages millions of kilometres of airspace over Canada and used to provide air navigation services for more than three million flights a year. It’s funded through service fees paid by air carriers.

The Canadian Air Traffic Control Association said it is very concerned with the memo. 

“It is the opinion of this union that safety is not being taken into consideration in making sound decisions,” president Doug Best and executive vice-president Scott Loder wrote in a letter to members.

“Safety is the number one priority for Nav Canada and it has somehow taken a backseat to cost containment as the number one and only priority.”

‘We’re facing years of a downturn in air traffic’

In November, Canadian air traffic was down 54 per cent compared with the same time period in 2019, according to the memo.

“Over the summer and fall months, the outlook for the aviation industry has deteriorated significantly and it has become increasingly clear that we’re facing years of a downturn in air traffic that is much larger and broader in scope than we all initially believed, and will be much deeper and longer than any downturn in the history of the industry,” Girard wrote.

Nav Canada says it is conducting studies of air traffic control towers in Whitehorse, Regina, Fort McMurray in Alberta, Prince George in B.C., and Sault Ste. Marie and Windsor in Ontario that “will result in workforce adjustments.” The company is also looking into closing a control tower in St. Jean, Que.

Nav Canada air traffic controllers were told on Thursday that a workforce adjustment is coming because ‘the aviation industry has deteriorated significantly.’ (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Government ‘pressed’ for help 

The company has been focused on securing liquidity and tapped into the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) to pay up to 75 per cent of employees’ wages, he wrote. Girard added that these payments are being reduced and will run through December, but Nav Canada isn’t sure if it can continue receiving that wage support.

“While an extension for the CEWS program through June 2021 was recently announced, NAV CANADA’s eligibility is uncertain,” he wrote.

Girard said the federal government has so far failed to come up with a bailout package for the airline sector, despite “significant lobbying.”

Last month, the Globe and Mail reported that the federal cabinet is working on a package for the airline sector that would include low-interest loans. 

Since Sept. 22, Girard wrote, the company has cut more than 700 managers and employees — 14 per cent of its workforce. It also let go of 159 students earlier in the pandemic, he added, and in November cut even more, “leaving just a few in the system.”

Along with the cuts, seven air traffic control towers are being considered for a downgraded level of service, and another 25 sites that are already Flight Service Stations — which provide only advisory services — could face more cuts.

Nav Canada’s board of directors has cut its fees by 20 per cent, and executives and managers have dropped their salaries by up to 10 per cent, Girard wrote.

These cost reductions, as well as access to government support through the wage subsidy program, have saved the company $200 million since March 1, he added. 

“However, that number still pales in comparison to the $518 million reduction in revenues as compared to budget,” Girard wrote.

“Despite these cost-containment efforts, we find ourselves in a situation where we expect our revenues to continue falling far short of our costs for several years, and we continue to require further cost-containment measures and indeed, a full restructuring of our business.

“In an environment where 30 per cent of costs are associated with ‘things’ and 70 per cent of costs are associated with ‘people,’ when all possible cuts with ‘things’ have been done, any further cuts will directly affect people.”

Girard added that he hopes the company can bring back some of the laid-off staff once the pandemic passes.

The Canadian Air Traffic Control Association said it will continue to challenge Nav Canada. The union hopes there will be “enough interest” in departure incentives for older controllers to offer them a package to retire. 

“The views of Nav Canada at this point are violating the vision, mission and overarching objectives of this company,” Best and Loder said in their letter to members.

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