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Friends in high places: Garth Brooks adds show after Saskatchewan premier asks

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REGINA — Country music legend Garth Brooks will be in Saskatchewan a little longer this summer thanks to the premier.

A statement from Brooks says he has added a second August concert in Regina at the request of Scott Moe.

The singer’s Aug. 10 concert sold out in 59 minutes.

The added show is to take place on Aug. 9.

After the second show was announced, Moe said on Twitter: “Great News Saskatchewan!”

It will be the first time Brooks will headline a concert in Regina and the first time Mosaic Stadium is the venue for a country music concert.

The Canadian Press

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Hospice’s refusal to provide assisted death causes ‘anxiety,’ says B.C. mayor

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DELTA, B.C. — A hospice that has a long history of helping people near death but denies them medical assistance in dying is drawing criticism from the city’s mayor in a clash of ideologies that has split its board and raised questions about its future.

The head of the society that operates the facility says she is trying to strengthen its position to only provide end-of-life palliative care.

Angelina Ireland, who heads the Delta Hospice Society, said politicians at the municipal, provincial and federal level who disagree with the Christian basis of its stance against medically assisted death should build another facility to provide the service.

“It’s a separate stream of end-of-life care and what we have is a government that wants to destroy palliative care for their own ideological reasons or economic reasons,” Ireland said in an interview.

The British Columbia government has announced that it plans to withdraw $1.5 million in annual funding if the society does not reverse its decision.

Health Minister Adrian Dix gave one-year notice in February, saying the money covers 94 per cent of costs for the 10-bed hospice on land that is owned by the Fraser Health authority.

Ireland said the society will hold a special meeting by phone and mail-in-ballot on June 15 for members to vote on amendments to its constitution. They would say “God is the giver and taker of life” so getting help from a medical professional to hasten death should not be an option for patients at the Irene Thomas Hospice it operates in Delta.

The federal government introduced a law in 2016 to allow for medically assisted death if strict criteria are met, but Ireland said the society is a private organization aiming to affirm the heritage and identity of palliative care.

“The history of palliative care is rooted in Christian moral teaching,” she said. “It is rooted in that we take care of each other, that we care for the dying, that we don’t kill them, that we make their lives comfortable and peaceful.”

She said three patients at the hospice have asked for medical help in dying but two of them went home to die and another had the procedure at a nearby hospital.

The upcoming meeting has created tension among residents, with some saying they want the opportunity to vote on the future of the hospice but their membership applications have been rejected without explanation.

Delta Mayor George Harvie said in a statement Thursday that he has discussed the need for an urgent meeting with local MP Carla Qualtrough as well as two provincial politicians.

“The mass rejection of memberships from dedicated community members, including past and present hospice staff and volunteers, is simply wrong,” he said.

“As mayor, I cannot allow this board to create a division and anxiety in this community.”

Ireland said the society has become “huge,” with 1,500 members. As a private organization she said it has the right to refuse membership to anyone, adding she doesn’t know how many applications have been returned.                         

Harvie said he has support from politicians at the senior levels of government.

“There is total agreement amongst us that we cannot let the intolerable actions of the current board go on,” Harvie said.

“The hospice was funded, built on public land, to provide an end-of-life facility in Delta.”

Ireland said Harvie has not contacted her and anyone who wants a medically assisted death has the option of getting it at home, at a hospital adjacent to the hospice or anywhere else the service is offered. But she said the public shouldn’t be “snowed” by the rhetoric of politicians at all levels of government.

“We’re talking about palliative care and we’re talking about (medical assistance in dying) and it’s disingenuous of the government to try and put those things together.”

The previous board voted in favour of medically assisted death, but Ireland said four or five members who were in favour of providing that service were “turfed out” at an annual general meeting in November.

“They didn’t even have a quorum, but they went through and pushed this apparent motion to allow (medical assistance in death) at the facility,” she said.

Randy Scott said he quit the board 10 days after being elected last December over a disagreement with the direction of Ireland’s views because he believes they differ with the needs of local residents.

“It kind of makes my stomach turn the way things were handled,” he said, adding Ireland’s predecessor also left the board and volunteers have turned away in disagreement.

The society says on its website that it signed a contract with the Fraser Health authority in 2010 for the hospice’s operating funds, “making Delta Hospice accountable to Fraser Health and its accreditation standards.”

It had already raised $5.5 million two years earlier for both the hospice and an adjoining centre, which provides counselling for clients and patients as well as volunteer support groups, the society says on the site.

Scott said while the society could potentially fund its services independently, residents of Delta would lose out on a valuable service at the end of their lives at a facility they have long supported.

His father and two friends lived out their last days at the hospice, he said, and he believes the majority of Delta residents are strongly in favour of medically assisted dying.

“It’s a fantastic facility and it has been over the years,” Scott said.

Chris Pettypiece, who served as board member and then president between 2014 and 2018, said the society is attempting to “keep people of a different belief away from services in a society that was built by and for and within this community.”

“It’s a precious community resource that people feel they’re being shut out of because what’s being proposed is a very exclusive and very specific agenda,” he said.

At least 160 people who recently applied to become members of the society and paid a $10 fee have recently had their applications rejected without explanation, with their money returned to them, Pettypiece said.

“In the eight years I spent on the board I don’t recall ever rejecting a membership application or even contemplating doing so.”

A spokesman for British Columbia’s Health Ministry said that as of March 31, nearly 3,500 residents had chosen to have a medically assisted death.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2020.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

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Liberal MPs call for national standards for long-term care homes

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OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau is being pressured by some of his own Liberal backbenchers to implement enforceable national standards for the operation of long-term care homes in Canada.

The pressure came Thursday from five Toronto-area Liberal MPs, whose ridings are home to some of the elder-care facilities that have been devastated by COVID-19.

And it came just as the prime minister was preparing for his 11th conference call with premiers since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada in mid-March.

He had promised to repeat on the call his offer of federal help to improve conditions in care homes and provide paid sick leave for workers forced to stay home due to COVID-19.

Both issues fall squarely within provincial jurisdiction and could test the Team Canada spirit that has prevailed among first ministers so far during the COVID-19 crisis.

Trudeau’s offer of help has met with a mixed reaction so far from provincial and territorial leaders.

In a letter to Trudeau and Health Minister Patty Hajdu, the five Liberal MPs upped the ante, asking Ottawa to call on the Ontario government to launch a full, independent, public inquiry to investigate the failings of the province’s long-term care system and make recommendations for fixing them.

Those failings were exposed in appalling detail earlier this week in a scathing report by the military, which has been called in to help out in long-term care homes in Ontario and Quebec. The report cited examples of neglect, abuse and unsanitary conditions in five Ontario homes.

Similar problems had been reported in some Quebec homes in April, although a military report this week on that province said conditions have now improved somewhat.

The five Ontario Liberal MPs — Gary Anandasangaree, Yvan Baker, Jennifer O’Connell, Judy Sgro and Sonia Sidhu — also called on the federal government to work in partnership with provinces to establish and implement enforceable national standards for long-term care homes across the country.

“The significant number of deaths in long-term care homes related to COVID-19 is not unique to our constituencies,” they wrote.

“It is a tragedy taking place across Canada as approximately 80 per cent of all COVID-19-related deaths across our country have occurred in long-term care homes.”

So far, Trudeau’s weekly conference calls with premiers have been notable for their collegial, collaborative spirit as the prime minister and premiers all work as one to cushion the impact of the deadly pandemic on Canadians’ health and the country’s economy.

But there are signs that team spirit may be starting to give way to the usual regional tensions and jurisdictional spats that have historically bedevilled federal-provincial relations in Canada.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault, whose province has always jealously guarded its jurisdiction against perceived federal intrusions, is lukewarm about Trudeau’s promise to ensure 10 days of paid sick leave for workers who fall ill with COVID-19 or are required to go into quarantine.

“I told Justin Trudeau this morning first, regarding sick leave, that there was a very negative reaction from the corporate side,” he said Wednesday.

“Well, obviously, there is a question there that isn’t clear: Who will pay?”

On long-term care homes, Legault came close to suggesting the feds should butt out, apart from sending the provinces more money for health care in general which they could then spend as they see fit.

“We’re telling Mr. Trudeau if you really want to help us in long-term care facilities, please increase your transfers in health to all provinces. Then we’ll be able to hire, pay better and have more staff in our long-term care facilities.”

At the outset of the pandemic, the federal government did increase those transfers by $500 million.

In contrast to Legault, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, has been effusive in his thanks for the offer of federal help to fix what he calls “this broken system.”

Ford too has called for more federal funding but he’s gone beyond that. He’s said “everything is on the table,” including integrating long-term care homes into the public health system, which is delivered by the provinces but under the national principles of the Canada Health Act.

And he’s called for national standards for such facilities.

“We need a system standard … a standard operating procedure that applies right across the country, no matter if it’s in Quebec or Ontario or B.C.,” he said Tuesday.

Trudeau has been careful so far to avoid wading into specifics, repeatedly stressing the federal government will respect provincial jurisdiction as it embarks on discussion with the premiers.

“I’m not going to short-circuit that conversation by putting forward aggressive proposals right now,” he said Wednesday.

Trudeau must also deal with the fact that not all provinces have been as hard hit by the pandemic as Ontario and Quebec and are less keen to have the feds rush in with help.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said that if the federal government wants to move ahead with paid sick leave, the federal government should not expect employers to pay for it.

“There can be no cost to the businesses that are just trying now to dust themselves off and reopen and get back into the marketplace,” Moe said Thursday.

He also said any pandemic-specific measures should have an end date, as longer-term conversations about sick leave belong in collective bargaining.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister shared that sentiment but nevertheless welcomed a national program to encourage any worker who feels ill to stay home.

“I’d like to see us arrive at some type of program nationally that would cover everybody in that event,” he said Wednesday, adding that it should be funded federally, “in partnership potentially with the provinces to some degree.”

Trudeau has credited British Columbia Premier John Horgan with first raising the idea of a sick leave program. And Horgan appeared optimistic Wednesday that agreement can be reached among first ministers to put one in place.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2020.

— with files from Giuseppe Valiante, Stephanie Taylor, Allison Jones, Dirk Meissner and Steve Lambert.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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