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National

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

A year after Danforth shooting, teens who lost friend grapple with anxiety

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Friends of Daniforth shooting victims one year later

TORONTO — They were eight care-free teenagers out celebrating a birthday when the bullets flew. The rampage that ensued on July 22, 2018, changed their lives.

Days before the first anniversary of the shooting in Greektown, four of the teens who survived the tragedy sit in the living room of an east Toronto home talking about their struggles with anxiety, depression and the feeling of loss. It’s better than therapy, they say.

“I feel like the people I am surrounded with is my therapy,” says Skye McLeod, as her friend Noor Samiei, whose 18th birthday they were celebrating the night of the shooting, gently holds her hand.

Their best friend, 18-year-old Reese Fallon, was one of two people who were killed when a deeply troubled 29-year-old man went on a shooting spree. Thirteen people were injured, including their other friend, Samantha Price.

Price has largely recovered physically, but she says she cannot stop the morbid thoughts that often race through her mind. The 18-year-old will watch cars go by and think the driver will shoot her in the head. She’ll notice a stranger on the street and fear for her life. She thinks large crowds make for a perfect place for a bomb to go off.

“It’s horrible,” she says. “But I can’t help it.”

All four have tried various forms of therapy. Three say it didn’t help.

McLeod stopped after one session with a therapist. Samiei, 19, says she saw a therapist twice.

“The therapist would look at me and if she didn’t initiate the conversation, I would just look back at her,” Samiei says. “What I really wanted was feedback.”

“Tell me how to heal,” Price says. “It sucks to go outside and be this age and not have fun.”

Max Smith, however, says therapy has helped his recurring anxiety.

“We just talk about what I’m feeling,” he says. “(My therapist) is super helpful and gives me insight and has given me some breathing techniques.”

All four say they think about the shooting a lot.

The night of the celebration started with dinner at an Italian restaurant downtown. Then they moved to Greektown for gelato. They were chatting at a nearby parkette when some noticed a man across the street, staring at them.

Price remembers Faisal Hussain raising a gun and firing. A bullet shattered her right hip and she collapsed. Next to her, two of her friends were on the ground bleeding.

McLeod also went down, but wasn’t shot.

“I remember looking at him,” she says. “Do I get up to run? Will that make me a bigger target? Do I play dead?”

Smith, who was next to McLeod, says he crouched down when the bullets flew.

“It was like tunnel vision,” he says. “I remember saying ‘Skye, we have to go.'”

“You saved my life,” she says to Smith. He blushes.

In the commotion, Samiei ran straight onto Danforth Avenue, tripped and fell, smashing her chin and knee on the road.

“While on the ground, I looked behind me and saw him shooting,” she says.

Samiei noticed Smith, McLeod and another friend duck into a nearby cafe so she got up and followed. The four ended up in a basement bathroom with two strangers.

Price watched her friends dash into the cafe, but also noticed restaurants were closing their doors.

Somehow, despite her shattered hip, Price made her way to Christina’s, a restaurant where a waitress helped her in and called for a doctor. She’d spend the next five days in hospital.

Her friends, meanwhile, were trying to track down members of their group. Samiei, while still in the basement bathroom, called Fallon repeatedly but got no answer. McLeod called her father, who rushed over.

Patrick McLeod, a retired police officer, found his daughter and her three friends in the cafe bathroom. After speaking with police at the scene, he ended up identifying Fallon’s body.

The friends later learned that Fallon had run in one direction while they scrambled in another. Her body was found in the parkette where they had gathered.

“That’s when our lives changed forever,” Samiei says.

While three of them started university last September, McLeod chose to travel. She headed to Greece, but the horror of what happened soon took hold.

“I immediately had a panic attack,” she says. “I had never been so depressed in my life. Crying constantly. Everything just hit me.”

Her father flew over to help and McLeod eventually carried on to Italy, but delayed her trip to Australia.

“I realized I needed time at home to heal,” she says.

Her travels helped, but like Price, McLeod says she grapples with disturbing thoughts. At a recent concert, for instance, she found herself thinking “this is a great place for a shooting.”

Smith moved to Guelph, Ont., for university and said being away from Toronto has also helped.

“It’s easy to forget about the shooting because you’re just not there,” he said. “It hits you when you get home.”

Samiei, now a student at the University of Toronto, says commuting to the school’s downtown campus was a challenge because crowds on the subway distressed her. So her mother commuted with her for months. Now, she’s able to make the journey on her own.

“I will change cars if I see someone weird, though,” she says.

Price has also struggled with parts of city life — a walk around her neighbourhood on Canada Day triggered a panic attack when she heard fireworks.

“It’s become so difficult,” she says. “I’ve loved growing up here and loved living here, but I feel uncomfortable at any public event.”

Despite their issues, the friends say they try to be positive as much as they can, especially when it comes to remembering Fallon.

“Reese’s last meal was her favourite: raspberry and chocolate gelato,” Samiei says with a smile.

Smith shows a video of the group at the restaurant that night where Fallon makes a goofy face. Everyone laughs.

“As horrible as that night was, at least until then, we had such a good time,” Smith says.

Samiei visits the parkette regularly to keep Fallon’s memory alive. She puts photographs of her friend on a tree. Someone takes them down, but she returns to put them back up.

“It’s important,” Samiei said. “So people don’t forget.”

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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Health

Lyme-infected ticks are so common in parts of Canada, testing no longer done

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OTTAWA — Lyme disease has settled so deeply into parts of Canada many public health units now just assume if you get bitten by a tick, you should be treated for the potentially debilitating bacteria.

In Ottawa, where more than half of the ticks tested in some neighbourhoods carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, the public-health unit no longer bothers to test ticks because it’s assumed they carry the illness.

Dr. Vera Etches, the top doctor at the health unit, says that means if a tick is found on a person, and is believed to have been there for more than 24 hours, then the patient should get antibiotics to prevent Lyme infection.

After three days, preventive treatment won’t work so patients then wait for symptoms or enough time for antibodies to evolve to show up on a test.

Similar rates of Lyme disease have been found in parts of every province except Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, but the disease is marching further afield every year.

Lyme disease began appearing in Canada in the early 1980s but it has only been since about 2012 that the ticks that carry the bacteria have become plentiful, mostly due to warmer winters that allow more of them to survive.

The Canadian Press

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