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‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

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Jennifer Coffman didn’t expect to get hit with a double whammy at her restaurant in the tiny community of Field just west of the Alberta-British Columbia boundary this year.

Coffman has been running the Truffle Pigs Bistro and Lodge for the last 12 years.

Field, with a population of just under 200, sits along the Trans-Canada Highway, about 10 kilometres from the Alberta boundary, and relies pretty much on tourism.

COVID-19 seriously cut into international visits last year, so Coffman shut down for a couple of months. She expected things would improve this year. But things are tough again with closure of a nearby section of the Trans-Canada for construction this spring and fall, and Albertans being urged by the B.C. government not to travel to the province as the pandemic continues.

“I just keep going back to the Monty Python (movie scene) ‘Not dead yet’ and the guy’s got his arms and his legs all cut off,” Coffman said.

“I don’t know how many legs and arms that I can have cut off before I just close down, take a deep breath, and gear up when it’s time.”

Coffman said Albertans accounted for about 80 per cent of business last year and about 50 per cent before the pandemic.

“We rely on Calgarians so heavily, right? Especially through this. Albertans are a huge, huge part of why we survive,” Coffman said.

“Last summer was OK. I thought, ‘I’ve got to count my lucky stars. I can stay open.’ But … this second one is hard.”

A B.C. RCMP spokeswoman said technically the boundary isn’t closed and there won’t be any checkstops.

“There are no restrictions that preclude people from coming from Alberta,” said Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet.

“If people are coming from Alberta and travelling to a health region, then they’re required to stay within that health region and can go no farther.”

Shoihet said any travel within B.C. has to be deemed essential.

“Please do not come to our province. Stay in your own province unless it’s for essential travel.

“Stay home. We love you, but stay home.”

The picturesque resort town of Fernie in southeastern B.C., less than an hour from the boundary, is hoping Albertans will continue coming this summer.

Brad Parsell, executive director of the Fernie Chamber of Commerce, says the community is reliant on Alberta visitors.

“Fernie might as well be in Alberta for all intents and purposes. We’re that reliant on Albertans, obviously in the tourism industry, but in our economy at large,” he said.

“It’s been incredibly challenging for the tourism industry to not have the welcome mat out to those folks at the moment.”

Parsell said visits from Alberta probably account for 70 to 80 per cent of total business.

“It’s a huge chunk … for sure,” Parsell said.

“This isn’t just about arbitrary numbers. These are people’s livelihoods and their lives.”

Business remains slow at the Fernie Hotel and Pub, but manager Alicia Dennis said part of that can be blamed on poor weather and restrictions on indoor dining.

She said visitors from Alberta and Saskatchewan were a saving grace last summer.

“We definitely noticed a huge spike in people from Saskatchewan and Alberta coming here for vacations. It was definitely one of our busiest summers I’ve seen so far.”

In Montana, the border closure between Canada and the United States is hurting the economy in Browning, a town on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

“A lot of our revenue for the local casino comes from folks in Lethbridge (Alta.), … because we are a border town right next to the Canadian border,” said spokesman James McNeely.

“I think the state of Montana has seen some impact from the lack of Canadian visitors. We don’t see those plates anymore.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2021.

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Bill Graveland, 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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