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Canadians divided on sending Team Canada athletes to the Tokyo Olympic Games: poll

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OTTAWA — A new poll by Leger and the Association of Canadian Studies suggests the country is divided over plans to send athletes from Canada to the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo as Japan grapples with climbing COVID-19 cases.

Forty-two per cent of those surveyed said they don’t think Canadian athletes should compete in the Tokyo Games — delayed by a year due to the pandemic — while 39 per cent said Team Canada should attend.

When asked if they think competing in the games will be safe, 46 per cent of people said no, 35 per cent said yes and 19 per cent were not sure.

This torn perspective of Canadians could help give government officials, who will make the final call on whether athletes indeed take part in the Games, a way out, says Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque.

“Canadians are so divided, certainly not convinced it’s safe for athletes, so it’s as if they’re saying, ‘If we decided to go, OK, and if we decide not to go, fine,'” Bourque said.

He added that he was surprised by these results.

“Usually it’s something that Canadians like to celebrate, whether it’s Summer or Winter Olympics, just to see the Maple Leaf out there competing, it always gets huge ratings on TV, so I would have assumed that there would be more of a willingness to say, ‘Let’s start enjoying ourselves again, including the Olympics,'” he said.

“But it seems again Canadians are prudent, careful, measured in how they answered the survey.”

The survey questioned 1,529 Canadians and 1,003 Americans online between May 7 and May 9. It cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

If governments are concerned about Canadians being upset about athletes jumping the queue for their COVID-19 vaccines, they need not be.

More than six in 10 respondents said they believe Canadian athletes should be prioritized for vaccines in Canada.

Athletes aren’t required to be vaccinated to participate in the Games, however Pfizer and BioNTech announced earlier this month they would be donating COVID-19 doses to inoculate athletes and officials preparing for the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian Olympic Committee has said it believes it will have access to these donated vaccine doses as part of an International Olympic Committee initiative.

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault was not available for an interview Friday, but his spokeswoman, Camille Gagne-Raynauld, said federal officials are closely monitoring the status of the pandemic and its effect on the Tokyo Games.

The government is working closely with its sport partners and with the support of the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, Gagne-Raynauld said.

“The priority remains the health and safety of our athletes, coaches and support staff.”

The results from the poll of U.S. residents suggest our neighbours to the south are far more comfortable with the idea of sending their athletes to Japan for the Games, which open July 23.

A 55 per cent majority indicated they want American athletes to attend the games compared to only 20 per cent who said they should not, and more than half of U.S. respondents said they think it will be safe to compete.

Bourque said this isn’t surprising, because Americans overall have been far less favourable toward imposed public health closures and restrictions over the last year according to his firm’s polling.

“They’ve always had very much more of a laissez-faire attitude toward everything pandemic-related, compared to Canadians. In their case, a majority are saying, ‘Yes, we should go and yes, it’s safe.'”

A state of emergency in Tokyo and Osaka was extended earlier this week to more parts of the country as sports and health officials around the world continue to monitor the evolving situation on the ground.

Anti-Games sentiments have been gaining ground in Japan, where only about two per cent of the population has been vaccinated.

On Friday, a petition calling for the Olympics to be cancelled “to protect our lives” with more than 350,000 signatures was submitted to Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike. The petition says money spent on the Games would be better used on people in financial need because of the pandemic.

On Thursday, Japan reported 6,800 new coronavirus cases, increasing its total to 665,547 with 11,255 deaths.

Meanwhile, the Leger and Association for Canadian Studies survey also looked at Canadians’ travel plans for the summer and for the remainder of the year. The results suggest a majority of Canadians plan to stay put and are not ready to get back on airplanes or travel to the U.S. any time soon.

These results mirror those from surveys of Canadians’ travel plans conducted last year, Bourque said — which he equated to a kind of “Groundhog Day.”

“I think Canadians will remain very careful of what plans they’re making,” he said.

“A lot of people too don’t fully trust they will get refunded if they reserve now and cancel later, so this is probably not helping Canadians say, ‘Let’s plan for the fall, let’s gamble on (the pandemic) being fine by then.’ So there’s a bit of a wait and see.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2021.

— With files from The Associated Press and Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

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Biden nominates Cindy McCain to UN food and agriculture post

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President Joe Biden is nominating Cindy McCain to be the U.S. representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, one of 17 nominations announced Wednesday that included major diplomatic and arts assignments.

McCain, the widow of Arizona Sen. John McCain, broke with Republicans and endorsed Biden for president, making her a key surrogate for the Democrat after Donald Trump spent years criticizing her husband. McCain is the chair and director of the Hensley Beverage Company, a Phoenix-based distributor of beer, wine, spirits and nonalcoholic drinks.

The president is also nominating Massachusetts state Rep. Claire Cronin to be ambassador to Ireland. Biden frequently emphasizes his Irish heritage and has stressed the U.S. support of the Good Friday Agreement, which provided for peace with Northern Ireland but has come under stress after the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.

Michael Carpenter, managing director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania, is being nominated to represent the U.S. to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Jack Markell, a former Delaware governor, is being nominated to represent the U.S. to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The president also announced nominations to the National Council on the Arts, including Fiona Whelan Prine, widow of the singer-songwriter John Prine and president of Oh Boy Records, the country’s second-oldest independent record label still in operation.

Josh Boak, The Associated Press

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O’Toole against cancelling Canada Day; ministers, NDP say it’s time for reflection

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OTTAWA — Federal politicians are faced with the country’s legacy of residential schools as July 1 approaches, with the Conservative leader railing against calls to cancel Canada Day, while Liberal ministers and the NDP leader say it should be a time of reflection.

Leader Erin O’Toole says Conservatives are committed to a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, but stands firm against so-called activist efforts to “cancel” Canada, particularly on the national holiday.

O’Toole offered his insights on the moment the country finds itself in to members of his caucus and staff gathered in Ottawa before the House of Commons breaks for summer.

He called the discovery in British Columbia of what are believed to be the remains of 215 Indigenous children from a former residential school “a necessary awakening for our country.”

O’Toole pledged that a government led by him would be dedicated to a renewed relationship with Indigenous Peoples, as speculation swirls that the minority Parliament may be headed toward an election.

The Conservative leader said the road to repairing the country’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples and better equality doesn’t involve attempts to destroy Canada.

“I’m concerned that injustices in our past, or in our present, are too often seized upon by a small group of activist voices who use it to attack the very idea of Canada itself,” he said.

Standing up to cancel culture and the “radical left” was part of the platform O’Toole ran on to win the party’s leadership last summer, where he billed himself as the “true blue” candidate to the Conservative faithful.

He’s also been trying to modernize some of the party’s positions and broaden its support base to include more people, including those who are Indigenous.

Like other federal party leaders, O’Toole has in recent weeks had to respond to the discovery of the unmarked burial site in late May and renewed demands for the government to make better progress on calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Canada Day, known for its fireworks, festivities and flapping Canadian flags, has in recent years become viewed with apprehension in some quarters, as more people reckon with the country’s colonial past and the harm it caused Indigenous communities.

The focus on unmarked burial sites at residential schools has pushed those feelings further. Where before some called for Canada Day celebrations to be boycotted, some organizers decided it was best to cancel.

St. Albert, a city northwest of Edmonton, said it wouldn’t have a Canada Day fireworks show because it was to be held on the site of a former residential school.

City councillors in Victoria also announced it would forgo its holiday broadcast to instead host another event later in the summer, where people could reflect on what it means to be Canadian.

At a press conference Wednesday, federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says he himself has mixed feelings about Canada Day. He drew on his own experience being from Quebec to say he knows the national holiday can be controversial, and is not universally celebrated.

For himself, he said, it’s a time of reflection and a chance to look at “what we are as a country.”

“The flags are still lowered to continue to commemorate the children that were stolen from their communities and taken to residential schools. Those wounds are still very much open in Indigenous communities,” Miller said.

Appearing virtually alongside Miller was Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, who agreed the holiday should be used to think about Canada’s ugly past.

She said the summer itself will be a time for people to wrestle with the country’s racist wrongdoings, as Canada prepares to mark its first statutory holiday remembering the legacy of residential schools on September 30.

“On Canada Day I will be wearing an orange shirt,” said Bennett.

New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh says people are looking at Canada Day differently this year.

“It does us a disservice when we ignore the injustice, we ignore the bad parts of our history and the ongoing legacy and the impact of those horrible things that have happened and continue to happen,” he said.

O’Toole, for his part, spoke out against calls from some to cancel Canada Day celebrations and singled out the actions of activists and those “always seeing the bad and never the good.”

“As someone who served Canada and will soon ask for the trust to lead this country, I can’t stay silent when people want to cancel Canada Day.”

O’Toole, who served in the military for 12 years, says he’s proud to be a Canadian, as are millions of others. He suggested that collectively, people use the pain felt from where Canada has failed in the past to build a better home.

“We are not a perfect country. No country is. There is not a place on this planet whose history can withstand close scrutiny.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2021.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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