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O’Toole looks to woo voters in Toronto suburbs on home stretch of election campaign

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WHITBY, Ont. — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is making his pitch to voters in the Greater Toronto Area, a vote-rich region that will play a crucial role in the federal election on Sept. 20.

The GTA sprawls across more than 50 ridings, the vast majority of which are held by Liberals, including all 25 seats in Toronto proper.

But O’Toole has suburban and exurban voters in his sights as he aims to boost the Conservative share of the vote in the broader region.

The party won a majority of seats there 10 years ago, but lost out to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in 2015 and saw its vote share drop another five points under then-leader Andrew Scheer in 2019.

At a regional transit station in Whitby, Ont., O’Toole stressed housing affordability, rapid transit projects, tackling gang violence and improving health care.

The event in a GO Transit parking lot marked the Tory leader’s second visit to Liberal-held Whitby in two days before he flies to British Columbia to make his closing arguments to voters on the West Coast.

O’Toole’s platform plank on public transit pledges to “immediately invest in projects” that cut commute times and create jobs, but attaches no specific funding amount.

Asked Saturday if he would commit at least $5 billion to transit, O’Toole declined to offer specifics.

“I’m going to get things built. I’m going to get shovels in the ground, I’m going to get things done,” he said, accusing Trudeau of never backing up “ambition” with “achievement.”

The GTA pitch did not go off without a hitch.

On Friday, the Conservative party confirmed they had dumped Beaches-East York candidate Lisa Robinson after the riding’s Liberal incumbent, Nate Erskine-Smith, highlighted Islamophobic tweets from 2017.

“We’re running a positive campaign based on bringing the country together and getting the country back on its feet from an economic point of view. And I want people on my team to share that,” O’Toole said Saturday.

Robinson denied that the account, titled “Ward 1 city councillor, candidate,” was hers.

“The information contained in Mr. Erskine-Smith’s social media post was generated by a fake social media account which I reported to police in 2018. I have also signed an attestation confirming these facts,” she said in a post on her campaign Facebook page Friday.

“Racism and Islamophobia have no place in the Conservative Party of Canada or my campaign.”

O’Toole also appeared to give tacit approval for Tory candidates who are not fully vaccinated to campaign in retirement residences, so long as they abide by public health measures.

The question came up after Conservative candidate for Peterborough-Kawartha, Michelle Ferreri, posted photos of herself to social media canvassing in a seniors’ residence despite having received only one shot.

“We will be following all measures, including vaccines, daily rapid testing, masking and social distancing, to keep people safe. That’s not only an expectation, it’s a commitment that all members of our team have to keep people safe in a pandemic election that Mr. Trudeau called,” O’Toole said.

The Conservatives say they will prioritize construction of four rapid transit projects in the GTA: the Ontario line, which would include a section running underneath Queen Street; an extension to the Yonge subway line reaching into Markham and Richmond Hill; the controversial three-stop Scarborough subway extension; and an add-on to the Eglington light-rail line bound for Etobicoke and Mississauga.

O’Toole also zeroed in on the housing crisis, re-announcing a suite of measures to cool the heated housing market and put home ownership within reach of more Canadians. The plan, which folds into an affordability thread he’s been weaving throughout the campaign, includes building a million homes in three years and raising barriers to foreign investors.

Similarly, the Liberals have promised to build 1.4 million homes over four years and block foreign nationals from buying them for two, as well as promising to curb the practice of “flipping” properties.

“Far too many people, especially young people, are priced out of the housing market,” O’Toole said.

“And too many are already struggling with mortgage and car payments, buying gas and groceries, while Justin Trudeau drives up the cost of everything with his out-of-control spending, borrowing and debt,” he said.

Home prices have continued to climb this year — even in suburban corners of the GTA — as remote work persists and business shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic helped people save cash for big purchases.

The average price of a home in the area rose to $1.07 million in August from about $951,000 at the same time last year, according to the Toronto Regional Real Estate board.

O’Toole sought to stressed his roots in the area, noting he grew up in Bowmanville, Ont., when his dad worked at a GM plant in nearby Oshawa before going on to serve as a Tory lawmaker in the provincial legislature for 19 years.

“I had a 905 phone number growing up. And I still do,” he said, adding he knows well the daily suburban commute from his time as a Bay Street lawyer.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 11, 2021.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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Energy

Satellite photos show aftermath of Abu Dhabi oil site attack

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Satellite photos obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday appear to show the aftermath of a fatal attack on an oil facility in the capital of the United Arab Emirates claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

The attack brought the long-running Yemen war into Emirati territory on Monday. That conflict raged on overnight with Saudi-led airstrikes pounding Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, killing and wounding civilians.

Meanwhile, fears over new disruptions to global energy supplies after the Abu Dhabi attack pushed benchmark Brent crude to its highest price in years.

The images by Planet Labs PBC analyzed by the AP show smoke rising over an Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. fuel depot in the Mussafah neighborhood of Abu Dhabi after the attack. Another image taken shortly after appears to show scorch marks and white fire-suppressing foam deployed on the grounds of the depot.

The Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., known by the acronym ADNOC, is the state-owned energy firm that provides much of the wealth of the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula and also home to Dubai.

ADNOC did not respond to questions from the AP asking about the site and damage estimates from the attack. The company had said the attack happened around 10 a.m. Monday.

“We are working closely with the relevant authorities to determine the exact cause and a detailed investigation has commenced,” ADNOC said in an earlier statement.

The attack killed two Indian nationals and one Pakistani as three tankers at the site exploded, police said. Six people were also wounded at the facility, which is near Al-Dhafra Air Base, a massive Emirati installation that is also home to American and French forces.

Another fire also struck Abu Dhabi International Airport, though damage in that attack could not be seen. Journalists have not been able to view the sites attacked and state-run media have not published photographs of the areas.

Police described the assault as a suspected drone attack. The Houthis claimed they used cruise and ballistic missiles in the attack, without offering evidence.

Meanwhile Tuesday, the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen announced it had started a bombing campaign targeting Houthi sites in the capital of Sanaa. It said it also struck a drone-operating base in Nabi Shuaib Mountain near Sanaa.

Overnight videos released by the Houthis showed damage, with the rebels saying the airstrikes killed at least 14 people. Sanaa resident Hassan al-Ahdal said one airstrike hit the house of Brig. Gen. Abdalla Kassem al-Junaid, who heads the Air Academy. He said at least three families were living in the house. Another adjunct house with a four-member family was damaged.

The Saudi-led coalition has faced international criticism for airstrikes hitting civilian targets during the war.

For hours Monday, Emirati officials did not acknowledge the Houthi claims over the Abu Dhabi attack, even as other countries condemned the assault. Senior Emirati diplomat Anwar Gargash broke the silence on Twitter, saying that Emirati authorities were handling the rebel group’s “vicious attack on some civilian facilities” with “transparency and responsibility.”

The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who had been in the Emirates on a state visit, said he spoke to Abu Dhabi’s powerful Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, immediately after the attack.

The statement quoted Sheikh Mohammed as saying the attack had been “anticipated.” The two had been scheduled to meet during Moon’s visit but the event had been cancelled prior to the attack over an “unforeseen and urgent matter of state,” according to Moon’s office.

The Emirati Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment over Moon’s statement.

Fears over future attacks reaching the UAE, a major oil producer and OPEC member, helped push Brent crude oil prices to their highest level in seven years. On Tuesday, a barrel of Brent crude traded at over $87.50 a barrel, a price unseen since October 2014.

Although the UAE has largely withdrawn its own forces from Yemen, it is still actively engaged in the conflict and supports Yemeni militias fighting the Houthis.

The incident comes as the Houthis face pressure and are suffering heavy losses on the battlefields. Yemeni government forces, allied and backed by the UAE, have pushed back the rebels in key provinces. Aided by the Emirati-backed Giants Brigades, the government forces took back the province of Shabwa earlier this month in a blow to Houthi efforts to complete their control of the entire northern half of Yemen.

While Emirati troops have been killed over the course of the conflict, now in its eight year, the war has not directly affected daily life in the wider UAE, a country with a vast foreign workforce.

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Associated Press writers Isabel DeBre in Dubai, Samy Magdy in Cairo and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

Jon Gambrell, The Associated Press

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National

Grocery store closures loom amid labour, product shortages

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Grocery stores are struggling with rising labour and product shortages that could threaten Canada’s food security, experts say.

Employee absenteeism due to workers calling in sick and COVID-19 protocols has hit about 30 per cent at some stores and is continuing to rise, Gary Sands, senior vice-president of public policy with the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, said Tuesday.

Without access to rapid testing in many provinces, he said workers are repeatedly forced to isolate for a week or more after an exposure to COVID-19.

If the situation worsens, some grocery stores won’t be able to stay open — threatening food security in rural and remote areas that rely on a sole independent grocer, Sands said.

“If we have to keep sending people home, at a certain point stores are not going to be able to operate,” he said. “We’re very frustrated with the lack of rapid test kits for grocers.”

Health Canada has made some rapid test kits available directly to companies in critical sectors, including the food industry, with 200 or more employees.

But many independent grocery stores don’t meet that threshold, putting those kits out of reach, Sands said.

Yet many grocers cannot obtain rapid tests through provinces either, he said.

“Independent grocers are in a myriad of communities in this country where there is no other grocery store,” Sands said. “If those stores close, you’ve got a food security issue.”

Meanwhile, stores are also experiencing a shortage of goods stemming from supply chain issues, including a shortage of truckers, packaging and processing delays and the Canadian winter.

Grocers rely on “just in time” delivery, meaning even transient issues like inclement weather can cause delays and shortages, Retail Council of Canada spokesperson Michelle Wasylyshen said.

Still, empty shelves at some supermarkets should only be temporary, she said, noting that retailers are exploring all avenues to get products to stores as quickly as possible.

But some supply chain issues could be longer lasting, such as the trucker shortage intensified by the federal government’s new vaccine mandate.

“The issue with the truckers having to be vaccinated is causing some delays, especially with the supply of fruit and vegetables from California,” Sands said.

“Grocers in Central Canada are mostly reporting just delays of a couple weeks, but in the West the shortages seem to be more significant.”

In some cases, Sands said grocers are short nearly 40 per cent of their usual stock of a variety of products.

“Especially in the West, some grocers are saying the situation is as bad as it was in the spring of 2020 in terms of supply,” he said.

It’s not just the produce aisle that experiencing shortages. Soups, cereals and cleaning supplies are all running lower than normal, Sands said.

Many shoppers have noticed empty shelves where Kellogg’s cereal is normally stocked, for example.

Kellogg Canada said in an emailed statement that higher at-home consumption coupled with supply chain challenges have impacted the availability of some products in Canada, such as Kellogg’s Rice Krispies cereal.

The company said the “intermittent shortages” reflect the challenging operating environment all manufacturers are experiencing, adding that it’s working hard to get Kellogg’s cereal brands back on store shelves.

About 1,400 union workers at Kellog’s plants in the United States were on strike for several weeks last year. An agreement was reached Dec. 21.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2022.

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press

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