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Alberta

Future of junior football murky as Covid-19 forces cancellation of season

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This simple equation is perhaps the easiest way to enter a description of the Wednesday decision, and Thursday public announcement, that the Canadian Junior Football League has dropped all plans for games this year.

CJFL president Jim Pankovich made it clear that the decision by the Prairie Junior Football Conference and allied leagues in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia supported the decision unanimously.

“Canadian junior football has 18 teams with 18 different ideas — no, make it 18 teams with about 50 ideas — but this was a combined decision and every organization had a chance to provide input,” Pankovich continued. “It has been a long process.”

The Edmonton Huskies, Edmonton Wildcats and Calgary Colts are affected by the decision. All teams were part of the national negotiation.

Coupled with a previous USports decision to wipe out university football across the country in 2020, the junior move leaves only the Canadian Football League as an option for players and fans, with a decision due from the struggling CFL soon, after a bid for $30 million in federal support money is evaluated.

Pankovich, Prairie Football Conference leader Curtis Craig and Edmonton Huskies owner Bob Bula mentioned in separate telephone conversations Thursday afternoon that the COVID-19 regulations made it impossible to consider a 2020 season. All three mentioned the importance of keeping players involved .

“:Small-group sessions and skill-specific training” were mentioned by Pankovich as a necessity for all teams. He and others mentioned that the game is as important for the lessons it provides to young males as it is for the actual on-field competition.

As soon as the announcement became public, there was serious suggestion that high school players hoping to move into junior ranks and current juniors designing their athletic future around possible participation in university programs.may run into traffic jams because eligibility issues are more complicated than before.

Huskies head coach Iain MacLean agreed fully with the decision: “it’s about the safety of our players and all the others who would have to work with us during the virus.”

He lamented that “this will be the first year of my life without a football season since I was 10 years old” and suggested there will be less pressure than anticipated on young players competing against more potential teammates than usual.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few of the young guys just stop playing,” he added, “and I think a lot of coaches will be considering the same thing.”

Bula insisted that there was no opposition to government regulations that limit the number of persons — 50 in any on-field cohort at one time — able to participate in games. “We might need as many as 100 or more, including other staff.”

Craig, who also is vice-president of the national governing body, said no Prairie team has the potential to develop a “hub” similar to those now employed by the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association.

For CFL fans the last refuge is always hope

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Alberta

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney battles COVID-19 hospital crisis, internal party revolt

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EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, facing a mushrooming COVID-19 hospital crisis that now threatens to topple him as leader, accepted the resignation of his health minister Tuesday.

Kenney said it was Tyler Shandro’s idea to leave the health portfolio.

“Minister Shandro offered his resignation. He and I both came to the conclusion that it would be best to get a fresh pair of eyes and a fresh start at the health ministry,” Kenney said.

He noted it has been a difficult stint for Shandro, including him and his family being harassed by anti-vaccination protesters over the summer.

“It has been a gruelling two-plus years for Tyler,” he said.

Kenney replaced Shandro with Labour Minister Jason Copping in a cabinet shuffle and gave Shandro Copping’s job.

The official swap in roles was made in a brief ceremony closed to the public but broadcast on the government’s website.

Meanwhile, Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver asked the federal government for air transportation help if necessary to move patients to care facilities outside Alberta and for more intensive care nurses and respiratory therapists.

Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair responded on social media: “Federal officials have been engaging their counterparts in Alberta for the past week to offer help. I have made it clear that when a request is received, it will be approved. We will work together to provide for the people across Alberta.”

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the timing shows the government made a political decision on when it would ask for help from Ottawa.

“(They) delayed asking for critically important help that was required within our health-care system until after the federal election,” Notley said Tuesday. 

“They put the politics of the Conservative Party at large ahead of the needs of Albertans and those front-line health-care workers who are working desperately in our hospitals to keep people alive.”

Last week, Alberta asked other provinces for help when it declared a state of public health emergency. At that time, Kenney reintroduced gathering restrictions and announced a form of vaccine passport.

Kenney said preparations with Ottawa are precautionary in case the COVID-19 health situation worsens.

Alberta has close to 21,000 active COVID-19 cases. On Tuesday, there were a record 996 COVID-19 patients in hospital and 222 of them were in intensive care, well over the normal ICU capacity.

The province also reporter 29 additional deaths, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 2,574. 

Many surgeries have been cancelled and Kenney estimated last week that hospitals could be overwhelmed by the end of the month without direct action. Doctors are being briefed on criteria to use, if necessary, for which patients get scarce life-saving resources and which do not.

The premier is facing not only public, but internal backlash from the United Conservative rank and file as well as from caucus members over his handling of the pandemic.

Joel Mullan, the party’s vice-president of policy, said Kenney needs to step down or face a fast-tracked review of his leadership.

“(A resignation) is necessary because both party members and the public have lost faith in Jason Kenney’s leadership,” said Mullan.

He said Kenney has failed by constantly making extreme, inflexible policy decisions on COVID-19, only to retreat when the shifting, mutable crisis has forced his hand.

In the latest retreat, Kenney introduced proof of vaccination requirements after proclaiming for weeks he would never do so.

“We paint ourselves into a corner where there’s no other option but to turn yourself into a liar to get out of it,” said Mullan. “This is a highly fluid situation with a virus we don’t have a firm understanding of yet.

“There’s no management of public expectations. Instead, it’s just telling people, ‘Nope, this is how it’s going to be’ until it isn’t. It’s no wonder that people don’t trust him anymore.”

Kenney is not facing a party leadership review until late next year unless at least 22 United Conservative constituencies vote to hold one earlier.

Mullan said more than 30 constituency associations have said they intend to call for a review but most have yet to formally ratify their decisions.

“I don’t know exactly when it will be done, but it seems to be moving quite quickly.”

Mullan said if a leadership review were to be called, it would take place within two to three months. Kenny would need a simple majority of votes by the membership to keep his job.

“If he gets less than 50 (per cent), he’s fired.”

Asked about Mullan’s comments and discontent in his caucus, Kenney said he is focused not on internal politics but on the health crisis.

“I believe I have the confidence of the members of my party, of our caucus, of our party board. There will be a leadership review in due course,” he said late Tuesday.

Last week, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, admitted the fuse on the explosive fourth wave was lit in July when Kenney lifted almost all health restrictions, faster than any other province. He said it was safe to do so because 70 per cent of eligible Albertans had received at least one dose of vaccine.

Kenney declared COVID-19 was effectively defeated and that a future rise in cases could be accommodated in the health system. He said he didn’t envision needing a fallback.

After that, vaccination numbers effectively stalled and fell behind other provinces. That prompted Kenney to recently offer $100 to anyone getting a first or second shot.

Notley said Kenney’s government failed to act during July and August as case numbers spiralled and the premier went on vacation.

“There are 60 members of the UCP caucus who sat on their hands from between 30 and 40 days in the latter part of this summer and did nothing, even when they had the information that the so-called Open For Summer Plan was going to fail and Alberta’s health-care system was going to be fundamentally and terminally threatened,” she said.

“And that is the group of people who are now pulling out the knives.”

Last week, he said he didn’t act earlier because he didn’t believe Albertans would have followed renewed health restrictions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Mom, toddler found dead were killed in suspect's Hinton, Alta., apartment: RCMP

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HINTON, Alta. — RCMP say a woman and her 16-month-old toddler found dead in Hinton, Alta., were killed in the apartment of the suspect charged in their deaths.

Police say the bodies of the 24-year-old woman and her child were discovered last Friday but they are unable to say where they were found because the case is before the courts.

RCMP in a release say they died on Thursday — the day before they were reported missing.

Police say autopsies completed on the weekend determined the deaths are homicides.

Robert Keith Major, 53, of Hinton, has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of indignity to human remains. 

RCMP say the mother and child lived in the same apartment complex as Major, whose next court appearance is Oct. 20 in Hinton provincial court.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2021 

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. Previous version had homicides on Wednesday, found Thursday.

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