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Feds eye special skills-training savings account as part of budget: source

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  • OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government’s fourth budget will include measures to help Canadians cover their bills if they choose to head back to school to boost their skills or change careers, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Thursday.

    In what will be Morneau’s last fiscal blueprint before this fall’s federal election, the Liberals plan to create a skills-training savings account for adults that’s modelled on one in Singapore, a government source, who was not authorized to speak publicly because the plan is not yet released, told The Canadian Press.

    The Singaporean program, launched in 2016, provides every eligible resident over age 25 a $500 credit to use for government-backed training courses. Workers over 40 can receive a subsidy of up to 90 per cent for approved courses.

    The program sounds similar to a registered education savings plan (RESP) for mid-career adults, but the government has been warned that people who make less money might not save as officials hope, replicating problems the government has tried to overcome in the RESP program.

    At a morning event where Morneau picked up his shoes for Tuesday’s budget — the same ones he wore in 2016, but with some repair work from an female-owned shop in Toronto’s Kensington Market district — the finance minister talked about how the government is looking for ways to provide workers dedicated time off for skills training and means to cover their expenses while they’re out of the workforce.

    Morneau’s council of economic advisers recommended such a program in its final report in late 2017. The group called for the creation of a “Canada Lifelong Learning Fund,” to provide incentives for workers and companies to invest in skills development, as part of $15 billion in spending.

    “When you think about going from one career to another career, it’s difficult and that’s something that we’re thinking about in our budget this year,” Morneau said during the event, where he took questions from a gathering of children. “That’s what we’re going to be thinking about — how we help Canadians to take time off, how do we ensure that they can continue to live their life while they’re taking time off and how do they pay for their training.”

    Paul Davidson, the president of Universities Canada, welcomed the idea of personal learning accounts.

    “All in all, I think what we’re seeing is a new conversation about skills and talent that looks not only at young people, but people throughout their careers,” said Davidson, whose organization represents 96 Canadian universities. “It looks at not only reskilling people once the market has disrupted them out of a job, but looking at upskilling that people can do while they’re employed. So, those kinds of directions are very, very welcome.”

    Since Morneau’s first budget three years ago, the unemployment rate has fallen close to a four-decade low and job creation has outpaced expectations. As well, education levels in Canada are among the highest in the world.

    But the economy is showing signs of cooling.

    Top government officials worked for years on ways to help Canadians prepare for a world with fewer lifelong careers and more short-term jobs, a hallmark of the “gig” economy.

    Federal officials quietly crafted a strategy, titled “Preparing Canadians for the Future,” that contains “bold ideas” so public policy doesn’t fall behind the curve, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

    The documents say the strategy takes aim at policies and programs to “reflect a diverse labour force,” and looks at ways to close wage gaps and protect the mental well-being of workers, including “the right to disconnect from employer-provided technology.”

    The ideas made their way into a government consultation in the fall, and now the federal labour minister has appointed an expert panel to give Ottawa a clearer picture on what precisely policymakers should do.

    The right to disconnect from work during off hours is among the issues the panel will examine. Also in the panel’s mandate is whether to raise the federal minimum wage — which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly played down — as well as creating portable benefit plans for workers who don’t have workplace benefits.

    And Labour Minister Patty Hajdu has also asked the panel to look at ways to provide gig-economy workers a mechanism to negotiate wages, or centrally bargain in a way similar to the way unions collectively bargain with employers.

    Denise Amyot, president and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada, helped advise Singapore’s government on its skills plan a couple of years ago. She wants to see Canada follow suit.

    “What I’m hoping now is the government is prepared to act and that the government is prepared to act in a bold way,” Amyot said. 

    “We do not have a choice — all our jobs will change.”

    Jordan Press and Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press



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    National

    Hungry wolves may get new home at Isle Royale National Park

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  • TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — A U.S.-Canadian team is preparing for another mission to relocate grey wolves to Isle Royale National Park in Michigan from a second Lake Superior island, where the predators are in danger of starvation after gobbling up a caribou herd.

    The targeted pack is on Michipicoten Island on the eastern side of the lake, which was home to hundreds of caribou until ice bridges formed in recent years, enabling wolves to cross over from the mainland and feast on their helpless prey.

    The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources airlifted some of the last surviving caribou to another island last year. Before long the wolves were the ones in trouble, with only small mammals such as snowshoe hare left to eat.

    Their hunting prowess makes them prime candidates for Isle Royale, where a multi-year effort is under way to rebuild a wolf population needed to keep moose numbers under control, Superintendent Phyllis Green said.

    “We can use the good skills of those wolves, and this will match them with a larger island that will give them a better opportunity,” Green said.

    Isle Royale now has eight wolves, including six that were brought there last fall and winter from Minnesota and Ontario. Two of the newcomers were from Michipicoten Island, including the pack’s alpha male.

    Around six are believed to remain on Michipicoten. A crew of pilots, biologists and others will try to capture at least some and fly them to Isle Royale in the next few days, weather permitting.

    Officials had said earlier this month that no additional transfers were planned until this fall or next winter, partly because of a lack of money.

    But two private organizations — the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation and the International Wolf Center — kicked off a fundraising effort, fearing the Michipicoten wolves would run out of food before then.

    “They’re not going to make it,” said Carol Brady, spokeswoman for the foundation.

    The groups have pledged $75,000 between them and have started a GoFundMe campaign to produce the remaining $25,000 needed for a four-day airlift operation. The Ontario ministry granted approval Monday, Brady said.

    As they’ve done before, crew members will trap the wolves with net guns fired from helicopters. They’ll be examined by veterinarians, and those healthy enough for movement will be taken to their new home, where there will be no shortage of prey. Isle Royale’s booming moose population is believed to exceed 1,500.

    “If left unchecked, moose would over-consume the island’s vegetation,” said Rob Schultz, executive director of the wolf centre. “Apex predators like wolves are important components of any healthy, natural ecosystems.”

    John Flesher, The Associated Press


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    Health

    B.C. researcher says device mimics parent’s touch to help babies cope with pain

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  • VANCOUVER — Researchers in British Columbia have designed a “robot” that helps reduce pain for premature babies by simulating skin-to-skin contact with a parent who may not be available during around-the-clock procedures in a neonatal intensive care unit.

    Lead inventor and occupational therapist Liisa Holsti said the Calmer device is a rectangular platform that replaces a mattress inside an incubator and is programmed with information on a parent’s heartbeat and breathing motion.

    The robotic part of Calmer is that the platform rises up and down to mimic breathing, and a heartbeat sound is audible through a microphone outside the device, said Holsti, adding a pad on top resembles a skin-like surface.

    The aim is to help babies cope with pain through touch instead of medication as much as possible while they’re exposed to multiple procedures, such as the drawing of blood, which can be done multiple times a day over several months.

    A randomized clinical trial involving 49 infants born prematurely between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy at BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre concluded Calmer provides similar benefits to human touch in reducing pain when the babies had their blood drawn.

    The findings of the study, completed between October 2014 and February 2018, were published this week in the journal Pain Reports.

    A parent’s or caregiver’s touch is the most healing and the Calmer isn’t intended to replace that, said Holsti, the Canada research chair in neonatal health and development. She worked with four other researchers on the project that involved a prototype built by engineering students at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

    “We purposely did not design it to look anything like a human being,” she said, adding her work since 1985 in neonatal intensive care units, where she taught parents how to support their babies at home after leaving the hospital, sparked an interest in assessing infant pain and trying to relieve it.

    “We have about 30,000 babies born prematurely in Canada alone every year so my hope would be that we would be helping all of those babies with Calmer.”

    Holsti said nurses often provide so-called hand hugging by placing their hands around an infant’s head, arms and legs in a curled position during blood collection, but the study suggests the device would save almost half a million dollars in staffing costs every year at just the neonatal intensive care unit where the study was done.

    Lauren Mathany, whose twin daughters Hazel and Isla were born 24 weeks into her pregnancy last April and weighed less than two pounds each, said that while the Calmer research had been completed by then, it would have been a reassuring tool for her and her spouse when they went home to sleep or take a shower after doing plenty of hang hugging and skin-to-skin touching.

    “The NICU is the most difficult place to be. It challenges you in every single way,” she said.

    Methany’s children spent over four months at the hospital and were medically fragile when they were bought home but are now thriving at almost a year old.

    Dr. Ran Goldman, who has been a pain researcher at the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute for 20 years but wasn’t involved with the Calmer study, said the device shows promise because there’s a greater understanding that healing is delayed when pain is part of an infant’s treatment.

    Scientists in the late 1960s believed babies didn’t feel pain but there’s now an increasing understanding that they’re more sensitive to it than older children or adults because their pain-inhibiting mechanisms haven’t fully developed, said Goldman, who is also an emergency room physician at BC Children’s Hospital.

    “Research has shown that babies who suffered pain as neonates do keep this memory later on and respond differently when they get pain experiences later in life,” he said.

    — Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter.

     

    Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


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