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Canada  

Alberta commits $20.8 million over the next four years to fight human trafficking

Fighting human trafficking

The Alberta government is providing $20.8 million over the next four years to implement recommendations from a star-led task force on human trafficking.

Country singer Paul Brandt, chair of the Alberta Human Trafficking Task Force, personally thanked Premier Jason Kenney during the funding announcement Sunday at Edmonton International Airport for his willingness to prioritize the issue, and for putting faith in Brandt to lead the group.

"Premier Kenney's longtime personal dedication and commitment to the issue of human trafficking is authentic and is admirable," Brandt said.

"He's the only political leader I've met in my 17 years of advocating for trafficking victims and survivors who took the time and initiative to personally write a plan to address this horrific crime."

The money will establish an office to combat trafficking as well as a centre of excellence for research and data collection — recommendations the government accepted when the task force presented its report in March.

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said the goal is to launch the office by next summer.

Other task force recommendations that will be supported include a new grant for community projects and Indigenous-led and culturally appropriate services. Civilian positions that will focus on supporting victims and survivors throughout human trafficking investigations will also be funded.

"Human trafficking is far more prevalent — way more common — than the stats would suggest because it's a hidden crime," Kenney said at the announcement.

"It festers in the dark. There are victims who face fear, shame and self-doubt and some who will never report what they've gone through."

The task force was appointed in May 2020 and engaged with nearly 100 experts and survivors of trafficking to provide guidance on how to best implement the government's action plan to fight human trafficking.

The government has said human trafficking includes sexual exploitation, forced labour trafficking and trafficking in human organs or tissues.

Kenney, who will be replaced as premier when his United Conservative Party selects a new leader on Thursday, noted he started fighting human trafficking over 20 years ago when he was an MP and joined a group of international parliamentarians on a coalition to fight the practice.

Later as Canada's immigration minister, he said he took steps to make it easier for human trafficking victims who had migrated to Canada to obtain safety and protection.

In winter 2019, he said he committed the UCP to a nine-point action plan to combat human trafficking, which led to the Protecting Survivors of Human Trafficking Act, which took effect in May 2020.

Brandt said it was exciting to be part of the funding commitment at the airport, where he said he stood in 2019 for a partnership with the facility and other groups in the Edmonton region to fight trafficking, which he called "modern day slavery."

"It has been our dream that special focus and permanent funding would one day become a reality. Today is that day," Brandt said.





Dominant Raptors feed off crowd to beat Jazz 114-82 in pre-season debut

Raptors beat Jazz

EDMONTON — The Toronto Raptors opened their exhibition season on Sunday by being simply dominant in their Canadian home away from home.

Pre-season or not, holding an NBA team — even one that is in rebuilding mode like the Utah Jazz — to just 33 second-half points is remarkable. And that's what the Raptors did in a 114-82 blowout win at Rogers Place.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse said a lot of what he called the “middle roster” player who saw the majority of the minutes in the game did some very good things to disrupt the Jazz.

“A lot of deflections, a lot of challenges at the rim, changing shots, good rebounding, perimeter-shot contests were pretty good,” he said. “I think I got to see a ton of the middle of the roster, which was good. It was helpful.”

Leading by only one entering the second half, the Toronto Raptors began the third quarter by going on a 17-3 run in the pre-season opener for both teams.

The Jazz, a team that is in a rebuilding process after stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were traded away during the off-season, looked very much like a club starting from scratch, shooting 32.6 per cent from the floor on the night and committing 23 turnovers.

“We’ve done a lot through our first four practices to come together as a team,” said Jazz coach Will Hardy, who said it was important to see how this new version of the Jazz did in a “competitive environment,” even it was just the first game of the pre-season.

“We’re looking for everybody to communicate and problem-solve as a group. The young players, to earn a spot in the rotation, they’re going to have to do the dirty work, they’re going to have to step up to an NBA level of physicality.”

A capacity crowd at Rogers Place watched the pre-season curtain raiser. Tickets sold out for the NBA Canada Series game just minutes after they went on sale, and lower bowl tickets were going for more than $700 each on secondary sales sites.

“The crowd is into it, it's the one chance they get to see us in their hometown or home area,” said Nurse. “And, they usually bring it. It's cool because, listen, there's a lot of pre-season games that you go through that there is zero energy and almost leaning toward negative energy. We don't have to go through that, and it's fun.”

Guard Fred Van Vleet said that the Raptors received “rock-star treatment” since they touched down in Edmonton on Saturday. “Hopefully we put on a good show,” he said. Van Vleet, expected to be one of the stars of the team again this season, played just 9:39 in Edmonton, scoring three points. 

“It was a good practice, guys were flying around,” said Van Vleet, as dozens of fans pressed up against the glass of the Hall of Fame room chanting his name as he tried to speak to the media.

“I’m not even going to try and grade it by any stretch. There were a lot of breakdowns, a lot of mistakes, that’s to be expected. But I thought we played with great energy.”

The Raptors were led by 11 points and 10 rebounds from Chris Boucher, one of five Canadian players to see the floor in the game. Kelly Olynyk (no points, six rebounds) and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (no points, five rebounds) got onto the floor for the Jazz, while Dalano Banton (nine points), and Khem Birch (five points, five rebounds) also saw time for the Raptors.

Of the 18 players on the Raptors game roster, only Thaddeus Young did not score.

“It just shows the support we have, playing in Canada, the fans supporting us wherever we play,” said Boucher. "It definitely made the environment better, but it’s still a pre-season game. There is still stuff we have to fix. But the fans definitely helped to make it feel like it was a real game.”

The Jazz debuted a new-look starting lineup with the twin towers of seven-footer Lauri Markkanen and Olynyk, one inch shy of seven feet, in the front court. Markkanen finished as the Jazz's top scorer with 20 points.

Raptors' seven-foot rookie Christian Koloko made the most of his time on the floor, bringing the crowd to their feet with a highlight-reel second quarter put-back dunk, and later using his massive wingspan to stuff a dunk attempt. Koloko finished with seven points and three rebounds.

Edmonton native Matthew Kallio was one of the officials on the floor for the game. He was a non-staff referee for the NBA and also officiated at the Tokyo Olympics, but found out in August he's going to become a staff official for the league. He's relocated to Calgary, but being part of this game in his hometown was special.

“There's a lot of honour and pride,” he said. “It's been a long journey, a lot of work to get here. But, at the same time, it's a basketball game. I love this game. But I will cherish the moment after the game, after the work is done.”

The first game Kallio ever officiated was at Edmonton's Rosslyn School. Kallio was a junior-high student, and was asked to ref a junior game because no other ref was available.

“I decided to throw a whistle around my neck and hop on the floor because my (physical education) teacher asked me to.”

And, does the attention the Raptors get in the rest of country suggest that, even though the Vancouver Grizzlies came and went, is it time for another team in Canada?

“Expansion is not an easy topic,” said Nurse, “But from the little I do know, the growth of the game has been pretty rapid here, recently. And that would help any city with a beautiful arena like this one.

"I think the overall growth of the game across the country would certainly make a team very viable.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2022.



'Huge demand': Supply issues could haunt Halloween amid trick-or-treating rebound

Supply issues for Halloween

The Halloween mood on Baruch Labunski's Toronto street has been eerie the last two years — and not in a witches-and-goblins way.

"Throughout the pandemic nobody really put up decorations and there were hardly any kids," he said.

This year, pumpkins have been sitting on his neighbours' doorsteps since early September and his son has already picked out a costume.

"It feels like we're getting back to normal," he said. "I think Halloween is going to be bigger than ever."

After two years of COVID-19 restrictions curbing Halloween, Canadians are expected to ramp up celebrations this year.

But the rising cost of goods and ongoing supply chain issues could put a kink in demand for costumes, candy and decorations.

New research by the Retail Council of Canada suggests 86 per cent of Canadians will spend the same or more on Halloween this year compared with last year, with many making purchases a month ahead of time.

Consumers also appear willing to open their wallets for a trendy new costume or to stock up on candy, with more than half of Canadians celebrating planning to spend more than $50.

"I think Halloween will be met by huge demand," said Tandy Thomas, an associate professor at Queen's University's Smith School of Business.

"Halloween spending will likely mimic the strong consumption behaviour we've seen on travel and restaurants in recent months. There's a lot of kids that haven't really been out trick-or-treating for two years that will be itching to get back out there."

That being said, Canadians feeling the pinch of soaring inflation may give out fewer treats, turn off the porch lights early or opt out of Halloween altogether.

Shoppers may also feel squeezed by so-called shrinkflation in the candy aisle — manufacturers putting fewer chips in a bag or candies in a box but still charging the same price.

"You could see more dark houses if people are concerned about costs and decide not to participate," retail analyst Bruce Winder said.

The potential strong demand paired with ongoing supply chain constraints could also lead to some empty store shelves — especially later in October.

Part of the issue facing manufacturers and retailers is that forecasts are unreliable, Winder said.

"The toughest part of supply chains is predicting demand," he said. "But that's especially difficult to do right now because every season is a new way that consumers are behaving as they navigate through the pandemic."

Depending on how demand unfolds, the potential scarcity could be particularly acute in the candy aisle.

"I think there could be supply shortages," Thomas said. "It's going to be harder for retailers to procure the inventory, which means there's probably not going to be as much excess and deep discounting on Nov. 1."

Also, running to a drugstore Halloween night to replenish supplies might not be an option for people who underestimate the number of trick-or-treaters they'll receive, she said.

The Hershey Co. CEO Michele Buck said recently that "capacity is constrained" in some parts of the company's portfolio.

The maker of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups has prioritized on-shelf availability of its everyday products to meet growing demand in that area, but has had to limit seasonal items, she said.

"We had opportunity to deliver more Halloween, but we weren't able to supply that," Buck said during an earnings call in July.

Hershey's spokeswoman Allison Kleinfelter said despite capacity constraints, the company has made more Halloween candy this year than last year.

But she still recommends shopping early.

"For the past two years, consumers have been buying seasonal candy earlier than in the past," Kleinfelter said. "This means that often a week before the actual holiday, seasonal packages can be harder to come by."

Retail Council of Canada spokeswoman Michelle Wasylyshen said the best advice for consumers is to shop early.

"We have heard from some retailers that they’ve had a lot of supply chain challenges with this year's Halloween products in that suppliers were not able to provide requested quantities," she said.

"This means that there could be fewer quantities available for several key Halloween products."

Labunski in Toronto said he isn't concerned about shortages despite an expected Halloween rebound.

"I do think people are going to go all-out and so retailers may be sold out of some of the popular stuff," he said. "But I can just buy something else."

Spirit Halloween, one of the largest retailers of costumes, said it has a full assortment of costumes, decorations and accessories.

"We work year-round to develop must-have looks, and 2022 is shaping up to be an incredible year,” Steven Silverstein, CEO of Spirit Halloween, said in a statement.

When it comes to costumes and decorations, Canadians worried about inflation might come up with creative ways to cut costs this year.

"We'll see some bargain hunting," Thomas said. "People may sew a costume by hand or look for a used costume."

People will also cut back on less essential items, Winder said.

"They might reuse decor from previous years or buy it at Dollarama to save money."



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Quebec votes: CAQ's Legault holds lead as vote nears despite 'difficult' campaign

CAQ's Legault holds lead

Polls show the Coalition Avenir Québec in position to coast to a second majority government Monday, but political observers say there is still plenty to watch for on election night -- in particular the profound political shift reflected in the battle for official Opposition.

Thierry Giasson, director of the political science department at Université Laval, says CAQ Leader François Legault has maintained his lead despite lacklustre debate performances and a "catastrophic" campaign in which he struggled to defend his record.

"It wasn't a good campaign for François Legault on pretty much every front," he said in a recent interview. Legault was forced to apologize twice during the campaign: once for comments linking immigration to "violence" and "extremism," and again after stating that the problems that led to an Atikamekw woman's 2020 death at a Joliette hospital had been "resolved."

His comments drew a rebuke from Joyce Echaquan's husband and the late woman's community, who noted that the racism and prejudice that contributed to her death are far from over.

Last week, Legault rebuked his immigration minister for claiming that 80 per cent of immigrants to the province "don't work" or speak French, and the CAQ leader faced heat of his own for saying it would be "suicidal" to the Quebec nation if immigration levels were raised.

"They are lucky, because they started with an enormous lead," Giasson said of the CAQ, "but it's good (for them) that the campaign isn't longer."

Despite the campaign missteps, Legault is benefiting from a strong reserve of "sympathy and goodwill" that he cultivated during the last years of managing the pandemic, Giasson said, adding that Quebecers have tended to grant parties more than one mandate.

The CAQ leader is also being served by -- and contributing to -- the narrative that none of the other parties could effectively govern the province, Giasson said. "Maybe that's the only success of François Legault's campaign: to discredit the alternatives campaigning against him."

On Friday, Legault told reporters that the ballot box question is, "Who has the best team to govern?" The premier said that while the five leaders grab the most media attention, the teams behind them are key.

"Ask yourselves tomorrow morning, who would be minister of finance? Who would be minister of health? ... It takes a solid economic team to transform the Quebec economy into a green economy ... to make the health system more efficient."

Poll aggregator website QC125.com projects the possibility of a CAQ majority at over 99 per cent, even as the party's polling numbers have slowly dropped below 40 per cent. The Liberals, Québec solidaire, the Conservatives and the Parti Québécois are all polling at around 14 to 17 per cent.

Geneviève Tellier, a political studies professor at the University of Ottawa, says there appears to be little appetite for change among the Quebec population. She attributes that in part to the fact that Legault’s government has been in power just four years, as well as to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The true option is, 'Do we continue with the government that we know will be there if another major crisis occurs, or do we take a chance by going with the unknown?'” she said, noting that the other leaders are relatively new to their positions.

The experts agreed that the most interesting battle is the one for official Opposition in a province where, before Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec arrived on the scene in 2011, elections were for decades two-party battles between the Liberals and the PQ.

Of the four main parties seeking to unseat the CAQ, only the PQ has shown a noticeable rise in support in the polls since the election was called, reflecting what Tellier and Giasson described as a positive, ideas-focused campaign by leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon.

Tellier said the most striking aspect of the campaign has been the fact that, for the first time, five parties have managed to gain significant public support — something she thinks is ultimately good for democracy.

"There are some left-wing parties, right-wing parties and so there are debates that force the voter to think about the different propositions and to position themselves,” she said.

With the issue of Quebec sovereignty largely taking a backseat, the campaign's focus has shifted to inflation and the cost of living, as well as the environment, the experts said.

The Liberals, Coalition Avenir Québec and Conservative party have all promised substantial tax cuts if elected, while Québec solidaire has promised to suspend the sales tax on some essential items and raise the minimum wage.

Éric Montigny, a political science professor at Université Laval, said there could be some surprises on election night, even if a Legault victory appears all but certain. He said he's especially interested in the fate of the once-dominant Liberals, whose impregnable strongholds on the Island of Montreal have become "houses of cards."

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade, Conservative Leader Éric Duhaime and the PQ's Plamondon are all in tight races in their own ridings, while Québec solidaire's election-night success depends on motivating young voters, who are traditionally more reluctant to cast ballots.

He said some ridings are also seeing tight three-way races, which makes them particularly hard to call. "When there are several competitive parties, there can be surprises," he said.



Jason Kenney on list of past Alberta premiers to resign amid party strife

Past premiers who resigned

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced in May that he would be stepping down as United Conservative Party leader after receiving 51.4 per cent support in a leadership review. Kenney said the result did not show enough support for him to stay on and he would step down when a new leader could be chosen. A new leader and premier is to be elected Thursday. Here are some past Alberta premiers who resigned amid party strife:

Ralph Klein (1992-2006):

The folksy one-time Calgary mayor led Alberta's Progressive Conservatives to four straight majority governments. But toward the end of his tenure, Klein's popularity was buffeted by austerity measures, labour conflict and questions about his behaviour. He garnered 55 per cent support in a March 2006 leadership review and stepped down later that fall. 

Ed Stelmach (2006-2011):

Stelmach won a come-from-behind victory to replace Klein as party leader and premier. A review of oil and gas royalty rates the following year drew anger in many quarters. Though he led the PCs to a resounding majority in the 2008 election and garnered 77 per cent approval in a 2009 leadership review, some caucus members took issue with his handling of the economy. In early 2011, he announced he would not be seeking re-election. 

Alison Redford (2011-2014):

Redford became Alberta's first woman premier when she succeeded Stelmach as leader. The PCs won a majority in the 2012 election, despite predictions that they would be toppled by the upstart right-wing Wildrose Party. She, too, won 77 per cent party support in a leadership review. But revelations of lavish travel expenses — like $45,000 to attend Nelson Mandela's funeral in South Africa — led to Redford's undoing. Following weeks of caucus turmoil, she resigned in March 2014. 

Jim Prentice (2014-2015):

The respected former federal cabinet minster left politics for the private sector, only to return to the fray for a run as PC leader. He handily won the leadership, but his party suffered a historic defeat to the New Democrats in the 2015 election, ending more than four decades of PC rule in the province. Prentice stepped down as party leader and MLA on election night after his party ended up in third place. 



The gig is up: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney set to step down from top job

Kenney set to step down

Don’t cry for me, Alberta, I was leaving anyway.

It's Premier Jason Kenney’s swan song message as he prepares to depart the province's top job, forced out by the very United Conservative Party he willed into existence.

"I was never intending to be in this gig for a long time,” Kenney told an audience earlier this month. He had planned for one more provincial election, he said.

Instead, UCP members pick a new leader on Thursday, turning the page on a triumph-turned cautionary tale that saw Kenney’s philosophy and management style crash head-on into a once-in-a-generation catastrophe.

Kenney, whose office did not respond to requests for an interview for this story, rode to success in the 2019 provincial election.

The former Calgary member of Parliament dismasted Rachel Notley’s NDP using an audacious blueprint that united two warring conservative factions.

It was a time of woe. Alberta’s economy was in the doldrums, its oil and gas sector in the bust phase of its traditional boom-bust cycle. Budgets were bleeding multibillion-dollar deficits.

Some Albertans were angry with Ottawa over rules deemed to be hindering energy projects. And they felt like suckers, giving billions of dollars in equalization payments and in return being ignored or demonized as climate criminals.

They sought a stick with which to hit Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Kenney was that stick. He came toting a “fight back strategy,” vowing to take on Trudeau and the other happy hit men of the “Laurentian elite” hell-bent on strangling Canada’s energy “golden goose.”

To him, oil and gas were not just good business. It was a higher calling, a “moral cause” to redistribute earth’s bounty to neighbour nations so they could avoid buying it from human-rights-abusing dictators.

Taking the reins of power, he went to work.

Kenney cut corporate income taxes, abolished the former NDP government’s consumer carbon levy, slashed post-secondary funding, launched more privately delivered care in the public health system, reduced minimum wage for kids, went to war with teachers, sought wage cuts in the public sector, ripped up negotiated bargaining deals, and attacked doctors and nurses as comparatively overpaid underperformers.

He gambled big and lost $1.3 billion on the failed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Kenney’s plan for Alberta was founded on the conservatism of “prosperity first,” said political scientist Jared Wesley with the University of Alberta.

Kenney, said Wesley, spelled it out in his maiden speech as UCP leader in 2017 by reminding supporters that “in order to be a compassionate and generous society, you must be a prosperous one first.”

Wesley said such an ethos may have captured the mood of conservatives and enthralled others, “but as Albertans and their government were forced (during COVID-19) between prosperity and compassion — or as Kenney put it ‘livelihoods and lives’ — his focus on livelihoods was really out of touch with what people were looking for.”

Political scientist Laurie Adkin said the prosperity-first doctrine was narrowly defined to the benefit of a select few.

“There was really no light between the Kenney government and the oil and gas industry, and that is not good for democracy,” said Adkin with the University of Alberta.

“Government needs to represent the public interest and not a single economic sector to the cost of everything else.”

The math was simple, the corollary obvious: If Alberta’s identity is defined by economic prosperity through oil and gas, then those who challenge this worldview are, well, anti-Albertan.

Kenney and his UCP vilified the green left and high-profile oilsands critics like David Suzuki and Tzeporah Berman. When world-renowned green teen Greta Thunberg came to the legislature, Kenney left town.

Kenney mocked Notley’s NDP government as a docile servant to Trudeau’s oil-killing agenda, kowtowing for crumbs, grubbing for “social licence.”

Quebec was an ingrate, fighting pipelines with one hand while accepting Alberta equalization money with the other. A U.S. governor challenging a cross-border pipeline was “brain-dead.”

To fight slurs on oil and gas, Kenney spent millions to create a “war room” that delivered a parade of gaffes, including a public fight with a children’s cartoon about Bigfoot.

Kenney launched a $2.5-million public inquiry into foreign funding of domestic green groups fighting Alberta’s oilsands. It never held an inquiry in public, went over time and over budget, and determined the funding was relatively modest and totally legal.

Over time, the enemy tag broadened. Kenney characterized the NDP as disloyal for its COVID-19 criticism. He linked one radio interviewer's criticism of his government to an attack on Alberta itself. Reporters were at times dismissed as shills for the NDP or special interest groups.

No quarter was given, even in good times. When Trudeau came to Edmonton to announce a joint $10-a-day child-care program, Kenney, from the podium, said the money was recycled provincial funds anyway and Quebec got a better deal.

As COVID-19 hit with full force in 2020, decimating the economy, Kenney found himself battling a two-front war as bubbling rifts between him and his caucus and party exploded.

Those divides had started before the election, when Kenney promised his UCP would be run by and for the members, but then at the party’s founding convention in 2018 told reporters “I hold the pen” on what will and won’t be policy.

The UCP won in 2019 on the strength of rural votes, said political scientist Duane Bratt. But when Kenney picked his first cabinet, it was Calgary-centric, leaving disgruntled backbenchers seething in silence, poised to push back when things went south.

“It was a top-down government,” said Bratt with Calgary's Mount Royal University.

“He did not have good relations with his MLAs. He hired attack dogs as staffers. And they just didn’t bully the NDP and journalists and members of the public, but their own MLAs as well.”

Kenney’s government was lauded in the first wave of COVID-19, invoking rules and closures to keep gatherings down, hold the illness at bay and keep hospitals operating.

But in subsequent waves, Kenney’s promise to balance “lives and livelihoods” left him whipsawed by those wanting rules to keep hospitals from cratering and those who felt the rules were unnecessary and a violation of personal freedom.

He tried to find a magic middle ground, which resulted in shifting restrictions: regional, provincial, on for some, off for others. Each time he waited until Alberta’s health system was on the brink of collapse before acting, with thousands of surgeries cancelled and waiting rooms jammed.

He announced Alberta was open for good in late spring of 2021, with all restrictions to be lifted earlier than the rest of Canada in a “Best Summer Ever” campaign. There were hats with that slogan and tweets at naysayers: “The pandemic is ending. Accept it.”

Within months, COVID-19 had overwhelmed Alberta’s hospitals so catastrophically that triage rules were imminent and the Armed Forces called in.

Extreme action was needed, so Kenney introduced a type of vaccine passport, something he had promised he would never do — a policy U-turn that enraged many in his party.

Then came the blame.

Kenney said he would’ve acted earlier except his chief medical health officer didn’t recommend anything. Months later, he said Alberta Health Services officials kneecapped his decision-making by delivering shifting bed capacity numbers.

The gig was not going well. Poll numbers were in free fall. UCP backbenchers openly questioned the restrictions – and Kenney.

And there were scandals piling into each other like cars on a freeway.

Alohagate: a bunch of Kenney caucus members ignored calls to stay home over Christmas to avoid the spread of COVID-19 and jetted off to sunny climes while Albertans shivered at home under strict gathering limits.

UCP caucus chair Todd Loewen resigned his post and was kicked out of caucus after publicly demanding Kenney quit for botching vital files, ignoring the backbench, and running a top-down, tone-deaf administration.

“We did not unite around blind loyalty to one man,” pronounced Loewen.

Kenney and some cabinet confidantes were surreptitiously photographed on the balcony of his office enjoying drinks and dinner in obvious violation of distancing rules.

The premier insisted there was no rule-breaking. But as outrage mounted, he announced his team had returned to the scene of the dine, pulled out the measuring tape, checked the chairs and concluded that, yes, they had gathered too close.

Such gaslighting, chortled Notley during question period.

There was more: a lawsuit alleging the premier’s office was fostering a “poisoned work environment;" drink parties in the agriculture minister’s legislature office; the justice minister trying to interfere in the administration of justice by calling up Edmonton’s police chief on a traffic ticket.

Humming in the background was a long-running RCMP investigation into potential criminal identity fraud in the vote that saw Kenney elected UCP leader.

And this was on top of Kenney's government passing a law in 2019 that sacked the election official investigating Kenney’s UCP for campaign violations.

As the calendar flipped to 2022, the drumbeats of dissent grew louder, even as COVID-19 receded and oil and gas prices soared, returning Alberta to multibillion-dollar budget surpluses.

UCP discontents had been angling to accelerate a party leadership review.

That vote was moved, changed to a special one-day vote, then altered again to a mail-in referendum. Critics said Kenney’s team was moving the goalposts to keep from losing.

Kenney called his critics “lunatics” and then, in his speech to kick off the leadership vote, asked for their forgiveness.

No matter.

On May 18, he got 51 per cent support – technically enough to survive, but he said it was time to go.

On Thursday, UCP members meet in Calgary to seal his fate.

The outcome is not in doubt. A new premier will be chosen.

The gig is up.



Early morning stabbing in Toronto sends one to hospital

Stabbing sends 1 to hospital

One man is in hospital following an early stabbing north of Toronto's Corso Italia neighbourhood.

Police were called to the Dufferin St. and Rogers Rd. area shortly after 2 a.m.

When officers arrived, they found a man with stab wounds in front of a building.

He was taken to hospital.

No suspect details have been released.

Police are asking anyone with information to please contact them.



Former Conservative senator Don Meredith charged with three counts of sexual assault

Former senator charged

A former senator who resigned from the upper chamber amid a sexual misconduct scandal is now facing criminal charges.

Don Meredith, 58, has been charged with three counts of sexual assault and one count of criminal harassment, Ottawa police said Saturday.

A source confirmed to The Canadian Press that the man in question was the former Conservative senator.

The charges relate to incidents that allegedly took place in 2013 and 2014 and were reported by an adult woman, police said, offering no other details.

Meredith has been released on a promise to appear in court. Neither a lawyer who represented him in the past nor the Senate immediately responded to request for comment on the charges.

Meredith — an ordained minister — was appointed to the senate on the advice of former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010, but resigned in 2017 after a scathing report from the Senate's ethics officer.

The report from Lyse Ricard, who held the position at the time, concluded Meredith had violated the chamber's code of ethics by engaging in a relationship with a girl when she was just 16 and recommended the upper house take the unprecedented step of expelling him.

Meredith resigned from the Senate weeks later just as the upper chamber was believed ready to expel him over the relationship. He also acknowledged the sexual relations outlined in the report but said nothing took place until she turned 18.

A second Senate investigation, released in 2019, found Meredith had repeatedly bullied, threatened and intimidated his staff, as well as touched, kissed and propositioned some of them.

Saturday's announcement marks the first time Meredith has faced criminal charges related to sexual misconduct.



Five years later: Waterton Lakes National Park plan considers fire recovery

Five years after big fire

Like the land itself, a new management plan for Waterton Lakes National Park is marked by a powerful wildfire that tore through the southern Alberta park five years ago.

The 2022 plan, tabled in Parliament this summer, sets the park's direction for the next decade. It includes dealing with climate change and invasive species and considers ways to strengthen Indigenous relationships and connect with Canadians.

The Kenow Wildfire, however, led to a major change from the previous plan. The fire burned more than 19,000 hectares — approximately 39 per cent — of the mountainous park in September 2017 and damaged many popular picnic areas, campgrounds and hiking trails.

"We've been pretty fortunate," Parks Canada's Locke Marshall, who's the superintendent in Waterton, said in a recent interview. "We've had a lot of support from the federal government."

Marshall said some of the damaged infrastructure was already being replaced before the fire, but other areas required a complete rebuild.

"There's been a lot of work that has been done," he said. "Initially, when the fire went through, our parkways were not available, so we had to work on them to get them ready to go.

"We lost our visitor centre, but we were already in plans to build a new one. Many of our picnic areas got damaged. We've done a lot of work on our trails."

Some areas, such as roads and bridges around Red Rock Canyon, are still being rebuilt and the Crandell Mountain campground is still under construction, he said.

Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at Thompson Rivers University in B.C. and Canada Wildfire's scientific director, said the fire also affected a lot of the park's natural landscape.

"It burned a good chunk of the park with high-intensity severity," he said. "The effect on the vegetation and the soil was severe because it was hot and dry."

Flannigan said he's interested to learn more about how the ecosystem has recovered in the park in the five years since the fire.

"I'm hoping Waterton uses this as an educational opportunity to inform the public about fires and regeneration and biodiversity and wildlife," he said, noting there can be positive changes.

Marshall said Parks Canada has learned a lot and will continue to learn from the wildfire through various research projects.

"This has probably been an opportunity that we really haven't seen in the past — and that's just to see what the effects of a widespread fire, a fairly intense fire, has on a landscape and how the landscape itself recovers from it," he said. "And also how that recovery may be affected by changes to the climate that we've seen in the last several decades.

"So, it's a really good opportunity for science."

The research, he said, could take decades to complete. He noted there's already some visible changes in the forests.

"There has been a bit of a transformation," he said. "A lot of the forests were predominantly conifers — pine, spruce, Douglas fir. In some places … we're seeing more aspen trees, shrubs and in some places ... because of a drier, warmer climate, we may see areas that were once forested will be open meadows now.

"There's definitely a change in the landscape."

The plan notes the fire also revealed more than 70 new archeological sites and expanded 170 known sites in the area that burned.

"It was a really good opportunity for some of that archeological work to be done," Marshall said.

"We've been able to involve our nearby Indigenous communities, in particular members of the Blackfoot Confederacy — the Kainai and Piikani — in looking at that landscape and seeing it in the context of their traditional knowledge of the use of the place."

Marshall said they continue to work with the communities to document the sites, which the plan suggests will be complete by 2025.

Overall, he said, the new management plan shows the agency's ongoing commitment to protecting the park.

"It deals with the fire," said Marshall, "but it also deals with our day-to-day operations related to visitation and how we manage the ecological and cultural integrity of the place."



Two Lotto Max Maxmillion winning tickets sold in BC

Someone is a millionaire

The $70 million Lotto Max jackpot is going unclaimed for another day.

There was no winning ticket sold in Friday's draw.

Of the 40 available Maxmillion prizes of $1 million each, seven winning numbers were drawn, two of which will be shared by two ticket holders for a total of nine Maxmillion winners.

Two winning Maxmillion tickets were bought in B.C., with the remaining seven purchased in Ontario.

The jackpot for the next draw on Oct. 4 will be an estimated $70 million, with 47 $1 million Maxmillion prizes up for grabs.



Report says federal whistleblowers fear reprisal

Jaded, cynical, disillusioned

Federal workers are increasingly cynical, skeptical and disillusioned about the idea of reporting wrongdoing in the public service, says a recent survey.

That pessimism is more "palpable and widespread" now than it was before the pandemic, and bureaucrats have become more likely to fear reprisals for whistleblowing.

Research firm Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc. delivered the report in March to the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, which investigates serious abuses within the federal government.

Commissioner Joe Friday says there is a maze of oversight mechanisms available to public servants and it can be discouraging or exhausting to figure out where to lodge a complaint.

He says he thinks public servants are feeling more isolated and disconnected during the pandemic, making it more difficult to feel confident in coming forward — let alone to gather the sort of documentation that whistleblowers require.

Chris Aylward, the president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says the protections in place for whistleblowers are inadequate and the regime must be strengthened.

"It’s discouraging to see that federal workers have grown more cynical about whistleblowing and reporting wrongdoing in the public service, but it is not surprising," Aylward said in a statement.

"It can be intimidating to come forward as a whistleblower, and our members are right to fear retaliation. Strong measures are needed to protect workers that speak out. Instead, there are too many conditions on whistleblowers that unnecessarily restrict disclosure."

The report, based on nine focus group sessions held in March, found that workers feared a wide variety of hypothetical repercussions, many of which are premised on the fear that confidentiality could be compromised.

These included a negative impact on the physical or psychological well-being of the whistleblower, a lack of support, the idea that they would acquire a reputation as a troublemaker, diminished trust and division among co-workers and "damage to the image or reputation of the public service."

Some said they feared their careers would be derailed — that they'd be given poor evaluations, be taken off projects, be assigned less challenging work or have their workloads increased.

Compared to a similar report undertaken in 2015, public servants were more likely to say that their attitudes toward whistleblowing had changed over time. This time around, they described themselves as having become "less naive," "more pessimistic," "more cynical," "more jaded," "less bright-eyed" and "more disillusioned."

Workers tended to see whistleblowing as a good thing and described whistleblowers as brave people who should be encouraged and supported. But they emphasized that prospective whistleblowers "need to understand what they are facing": a process that is "long, arduous, stressful and uncertain as to the outcome."

And while participants reported an increase in awareness and education about the process of reporting wrongdoing, they didn't trust it.

"Many held the view that such changes amount to 'virtue signalling' or 'window dressing' as opposed to constituting real cultural change," the report says.

A little over half of the focus group attendees were unaware of the existence of the office that commissioned the research in the first place.

That's not necessarily such a bad thing, Friday says.

"I think if every public servant woke up every morning and first thing on their mind was, 'How do I bring wrongdoing to light,' that might suggest that there’s more wrongdoing than anybody thinks there is," he says.

Still, it's apparent that many don't know how the whistleblowing process works, or don't have trust in it if they do. "Clearly, there's more to do," he says.

It can be frustrating to push for cultural change on the margins of a 300,000-person organization, Friday says — and with no influence or authority over the internal, department-specific procedures that govern most of the whistleblowing system.

Still, his office of 35 people has reached thousands of public servants with events and presentations over the course of the pandemic, he says, in an attempt to demystify the process.

In the seven years he's been commissioner — and during his time as deputy commissioner and legal counsel before that — Friday says he's never given a presentation that didn't result in a followup with someone in the audience who was considering reporting wrongdoing.

"We're talking about something very personal, very often something that someone has not yet spoken to anybody about," he says, lamenting that the pandemic has resulted in fewer opportunities to have face-to-face conversations.



Canada has now ended its COVID-19 travel restrictions, mask mandates

Travel, mask mandates end

As of this morning, travellers to Canada do not need to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 — and wearing a mask on planes and trains is now optional, though it is still recommended.

People entering the country are no longer subject to random mandatory tests for the virus, and those who are unvaccinated will not need to isolate upon arrival.

Anyone who entered Canada in the last two weeks and was subject to quarantine or testing is off the hook as of today.

And inbound travellers do not need to fill out the controversial ArriveCan app anymore, although they can still use it to fill out their customs declarations at certain airports.

Federal ministers announced the end of the COVID-19 public health restrictions earlier this week, saying the latest wave of the disease has largely passed and travel-related cases aren't having a major impact.

But Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos warned restrictions could be brought back again if they are needed.



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