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National

Convoy support reaches beyond trucking industry, says Ontario driver

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The Truckers Freedom Convoy will roll past Woodstock Thursday afternoon, Jan. 27, on route to join fellow drivers from across Canada in Ottawa on Saturday, Jan. 29.

Atlantic Canadian organizers ask supporters to gather at the Beardsley Road overpass near Woodstock late Thursday afternoon to encourage drivers as they pass.

The convoy began as a trucker protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates imposed by the Canadian and U.S. federal governments for truckers hauling across the Canada-U.S. border. The Canadian event organizers raised more than $4.5 million in donations through a GoFundMe account with growing support.

The Freedom Trucker Convoy also garnered widespread support beyond the trucking industry as it plans to take its message to the front door of Parliament in Ottawa on Saturday.

Florenceville-Bristol trucker Barney Greene, who’s not directly involved in organizing the convoy, said the international protest reaches beyond vaccine mandate or trucker issues.

He said the convoy’s goal is to deliver a message to the government that its COVID-19 policies hurt Canadians across the board, including small businesses, families and children.

“They’ve upturned everyone’s life,” he said.

Greene said most people supported the measures when the pandemic began two years ago, but many now question the federal and provincial government’s actions and mixed messaging.

“I think at this point people want to get back to life as normal,” he said. “They’ve done everything asked of them, but they’re no better off.”

Greene, a former long-haul trucker who now drives a log truck in western New Brunswick and Maine, says he has “too much on the go” personally to become actively involved in the convoy. Still, he said, he fully supports his fellow drivers involved and the message they are delivering.

Greene has actively pushed for the interest of truckers in the past. Last year, he and Martin Broadmann established Truckers United Inc., serving as its president. While he recently stepped back from his central role, Greene said, Brodmann and others teamed up with convoy organizers locally and federally.

Greene said vaccine mandates didn’t play into the establishment of Trucker United Inc., but COVID testing policies for truckers travelling across the border did.

While most truckers experience limited contact with people when delivering or picking up cargo on the American side of the border, Greene said, even fully vaccinated drivers, like himself, were forced to test every time they re-entered Canada.

He said truckers work on tight schedules and have little time to waste on the road.

Greene said the truckers he knows were careful not to spread the virus.

“We’re all on the same page. If someone felt sick, they were willing to go for tests,” he said.

Green takes issue with some people spinning the planned convoy as an “anti-vax” movement.

“To be clear, I’m not an anti-vaxxer,” he said, “most of these people aren’t anti-vaxxers.”

Greene supports what he calls the convoy’s effort to remind government leaders not to overstep their power and ignore the Canadian Charter of Rights when imposing rules and mandates costing people opportunities to make a living.

Jean-Marie Picard, executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Truckers Association, said the organization opposes the convoy.

“We support our drivers and our companies, but we can’t support a convoy,” he said.

Picard said truckers lost control of the planned protest as other interest groups hijacked the message.

“It lost its original message,” he said. “It’s now freedom for Canadians.”

Picard said the trucking industry, through the Canadian Trucking Alliance, tried to influence the federal government policy and limit the impact on transportation, but government made its decision.

“It’s in place, and it’s not going away,” he said.

Picard added that both the U.S. and Canadian federal governments have the same vaccination mandates.

He said the role of organizations like the APTA is to find ways to work within the rules and ensure goods continue to move.

Picard said most of the companies his organization represents did not enforce vaccine mandates but strongly encouraged drivers to get the shots.

Picard said the convoy as currently planned should not cause supply-chain interruptions, but that could change if they set up blockades.

Greene said most of the organizers and truckers involved in the convoy don’t want to interrupt the delivery of goods and services. He said several drivers and companies who support the convoy would remain on the job to ensure goods continue to move.

“Truckers are not looking to send you to bare grocery shelves,” Greene said. “They aren’t looking to starve your family. They’re looking to send a message.”

However, he said, driver shortages already create supply-chain challenges, noting vaccine mandates taking 40,000 truckers out of the system only “exacerbates” the problem.

“You’ve created your own problem,” he said.

Across Canada, as support for the convoy grew and more voices joined the mix, the message became muddled as some more extreme views clouded moderate views.

In the meantime, GoFundMe funds raised are on hold until convoy organizers provide a clear plan for the money.

Politically, the federal government shows no sign of turning back from the vaccine mandates, as demonstrated in a recent statement released by three ministers and the Canadian Trucking Alliance representative.

“The Government of Canada and the Canadian Trucking Alliance both agree that vaccination, used in combination with preventative public health measures, is the most effective tool to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for Canadians, and to protect public health,” reads the statement co-signed by Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, and President of the Canadian Trucking Alliance Stephen Laskowski.

Atlantic Canada convoy organizers said truckers would gather Thursday, July 27, at Aulac, near the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border, before heading west towards Ottawa. They expect the truckers to pass the Beardsley Road overpass between 3:30 and 4 p.m.

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun

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Disaster

‘If there’d even been five minutes’ warning’: Woman questions storm alert system

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Bethany Armstrong watched as the sky turned a tint of green on Saturday afternoon.

The Peterborough, Ont., woman was out camping with friends in Lakehurst, Ont., at the time, so she checked a weather app on her phone and noticed a thunderstorm warning.

That was the only indication she said she had that a vicious storm was about to hit.

Armstrong said she never received the emergency alert that many Ontario residents got on their cellphones, warning them to seek shelter ahead of severe weather that ultimately killed 11 people.

One of those who died was a close friend of Armstrong’s family – Armstrong says that friend didn’t get the alert either.

“If there’d even been five minutes’ warning … she would have gotten inside,” Armstrong said of the woman she likened to her second mom.

Joanne Labelle, 64, of Cornwall, Ont., was among those killed as a result of the storm. She had been staying in a trailer on Armstrong’s parents’ property in the Peterborough area when the intense winds and rains hit.

Labelle’s husband and Armstrong’s father found Labelle struck by a tree – Armstrong said the family thinks Labelle had been trying to get from the trailer to a house on the property when she was hit.

Armstrong said her family and Labelle’s husband later checked Labelle’s cellphone, which was with her during the storm, but found no evidence of an alert.

“I just think like, ‘Wow, you know, if she had got the alert, we wouldn’t maybe be in this situation,'” Armstrong said, describing Labelle as a “smart” woman who loved the outdoors and would have taken a severe weather warning seriously.

Emergency alerts are issued in Canada through the Alert Ready system, which delivers critical alerts to Canadians through television, radio and LTE-connected and compatible wireless devices.

The system was developed with many partners, including federal, provincial and territorial emergency management officials, Environment and Climate Change Canada, weather information company Pelmorex Corp., the broadcasting industry and wireless service providers.

Cecelia Parsons, a spokesperson for Environment Canada, said “broadcast immediate” alerts are sent through the Alert Ready system for tornado warnings and severe thunderstorm warnings involving wind gusts of 130 kilometres per hour or greater and hail that is at least seven centimetres in diameter. Saturday’s storm was the first time such an alert for a thunderstorm was sent through the system, she said.

However, some residents may not have received an emergency alert on their smartphones for a number of reasons, including their phones not being “compatible,” Parsons said.

“This may occur for a variety of reasons: the phone is turned off or in silent or airplane mode; the phone is not physically in the specific area targeted for the alert; device compatibility, connection to an LTE network, cell tower coverage and device software and settings,” she said.

Martin Belanger, director of public alerting for Pelmorex, said smartphones need to be in the area where an emergency alert has been issued in order to receive an alert and also need to be connected to an LTE or 5G network — a requirement established by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

As of April 2019, the CRTC requires that new phones sold by Canada’s wireless carriers be compatible with the emergency alerting system, Parsons added.

Belanger said Environment Canada was responsible for issuing the emergency alerts on Saturday and Pelmorex received those alerts and made them available to broadcasters and wireless service providers.

He added that Pelmorex received “some” reports from the public about not getting an emergency alert during Saturday’s storm. When the company receives such reports, it shares that information with its partners, he said.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said that with 11 people dead, the early warning system didn’t work as well as it could have to protect residents from last weekend’s storm.

“I think there needs to be improvement,” Blair said on Friday from Indonesia, where he was attending international meetings on disaster risk and mitigation.

“When (there’s) information that Canadians need to take the steps in order to be safe, we need to make sure that they get that information.”

Blair said public education is also needed so Canadians know what to do when they receive such an alert. He also said the country’s public alerting system, controlled by provinces and territories, is applied “inconsistently.”

“The tragic loss of life and the damage that occurred in Ontario and Quebec over the past several days demonstrate to us that there is still more work to do, and we’re committed to doing that,” he said.

Armstrong, who made it through the storm last weekend by taking shelter in a nearby home, said she would like to see the Alert Ready system improved.

“I just hope that things can improve for the future and that they can get either a better system in place or adjust the criteria that has to be met,” she said as she remembered Labelle as a beloved matriarch and a mainstay at the pharmacy where she worked. “So we can try and help save other people.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

– with files from Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa.

———

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press

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Economy

Federal government posts $95.6 billion deficit for 2021-2022 fiscal year

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OTTAWA — The federal government posted a deficit of $95.6 billion for its 2021-22 fiscal year.

In its monthly fiscal monitor report, the Finance Department says the tally for the April 2021 to March 2022 period compared with a deficit of $314.0 billion a year earlier.

Program expenses, excluding net actuarial losses, totalled $457.3 billion, down from $577.6 billion a year earlier due in large part to lower transfers to businesses, individuals, and other levels of government.

Public debt charges rose to $24.8 billion compared with $20.5 billion a year earlier.

Revenue for the fiscal year totalled $396.8 billion, up from $299.5 billion, due to higher tax and other revenues.

Net actuarial losses were $10.3 billion, down from $15.4 billion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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